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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 4 April, 2020

Five talking points from this weekend's FA Cup action

It was a weekend of cup shocks to say the least.

A very welcome win for Villa but problems are still there

WHEN CARLES GIL fired Aston Villa ahead with a wonderstrike against Bournemouth this afternoon the whole of Villa Park rejoiced at the fact that they had actually scored a goal.

Mind, they will still go the whole month of January without a league goal. But the FA Cup has served to offer a welcome break for Paul Lambert from Villa’s increasingly poor league campaign.

The fact that they are now into the fifth round, and with so many of the big names eliminated, is some form of solace for the claret and blue clad supporters.

However, a win against Bournemouth by no means signals the end of Villa’s plight. After scraping by Blackpool in the previous round Lambert’s side fell to consecutive defeats to Liverpool and Leicester.

With their next two games coming in the form of Arsenal away and Chelsea at home it’d take a brave man to bet against a similar two results. It’s difficult not to feel sorry for Villa fans however.

The long-running saga of Randy Lerner trying to sell the club continues to rumble on and the American seems to have no interest in funding Lambert to strengthen the squad. The result has been stagnation with their last three league finishes reading: 15th, 15th and 16th.

Before that they had managed a run of three consecutive 6th place finishes. It’s a situation that shouldn’t be blamed on Lambert and, largely enough, it hasn’t been. The ongoing struggles go deeper, or, perhaps, higher into the club — right up to the lofty heights of the directors’ box.

Soccer - FA Cup - Fourth Round - Aston Villa v AFC Bournemouth - Villa Park Villa fans finally had a goal to celebrate. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Are City beginning to slip?

Last week’s loss to Arsenal should have been followed up with a Manchester City thumping of Championship side Middlesbrough yesterday.

Instead what happened was a poorly thought out trip to Abu Dhabi followed by a lacklustre performance that saw them crash out of the Cup.

Manuel Pellegrini denied that the trip had anything to do with his side’s poor performances but it’s difficult to see how arriving home from such a long flight at 7pm on a Friday, with a match at 3pm the following day, could possibly not have an impact.

But let’s take the Chilean’s word for it. So, what else could have led to City’s exit? Well it could very well be down to one of the reasons they were so poor against Arsenal last week — the absence of one Yaya Toure.

Since Toure left for the African Cup of Nations after the last FA Cup weekend at the start of the month City have played three games, losing twice and drawing once.

Before the Ivorian’s departure for Equatorial Guinea, City had won the last nine consecutive games that he had played in. If that doesn’t show how much they need him then nothing does.

Soccer - FA Cup - Fourth Round - Manchester City v Middlesbrough - Etihad Stadium Willy Caballero in disbelief as Boro fans celebrate behind him. Source: EMPICS Sport

Chelsea’s loss will hurt Mourinho

Despite fielding a relatively second string side against mid-table League One side Bradford City Jose Mourinho was still expecting his Chelsea side to win and will have been very disappointed that they didn’t.

His team selection was not an act of belittling the FA Cup, rather a decision to give some of his back-up players a chance to show him what they could do.

The fact that they didn’t will be concerning for the Chelsea boss as the title race nears the final turn onto the home straight. With players such as Gary Cahill and Nemanja Matic not looking as effective as they did earlier in the season, Mourinho will have hoped someone could prove themselves enough to step in and play an important role in the title run-in.

Instead he was left wanting and his post-match press conference quotes show how annoyed he was.

“The other players have to be ready to play for Chelsea in any game. If they cannot play against a team from the Championship, League One or League Two, what do we do? The selection was good enough to win,” he said.

Credit, obviously, must go to Bradford who came to Stamford Bridge in the manner all lower league clubs should — with no fear. Phil Parkinson’s side had nothing to lose and played as so, taking the game to Chelsea and taking advantage of some very poor defending.

Expect to see a full-strength Chelsea team welcome Liverpool to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.

Soccer - FA Cup - Fourth Round - Chelsea v Bradford City - Stamford Bridge Bradford players celebrate a monumental win. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

The Tony Pulis train rolls on

It was perhaps surprising to see the strength of the West Brom side Tony Pulis put out against Birmingham City yesterday, given the fact that they face a vital home tie against Tottenham next weekend as they look to pull themselves further out of the relegation mire.

But it is a sign of how confident Pulis is in his players that he’s going to do his utmost to ensure a trip to Wembley in May.

It really is astonishing how fortunes have changed at The Hawthorns since Pulis took over. Confidence is sky high and talk is abound of perhaps ending a 47-year FA Cup drought. This is just weeks after it looked like The Baggies were a dead cert to succumb to relegation.

Pulis’s turnaround is remarkable yet it was almost expected when he was announced as the new manager. His record at the bottom of the table should never be discounted and he should be considered as one of the best managers in the Premier League for the last number of years.

If he can manage to keep Victor Anichebe in his re-found good form, along with the class of Saido Berahino, that Cup drought may come into danger in May.

Soccer - FA Cup - Fourth Round - Birmingham City v West Bromwich Albion - St Andrews Source: Nigel French

United avoid the headlines somewhat after dismal result

The shock defeats of Chelsea and Man City worked to take the spotlight off United’s scoreless draw with League Two Cambridge, but the Reds’ dreadful display at the Allen Stadium will still be hugely worrying for Louis van Gaal.

It was astonishing the see how difficult superstars like Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie found it to assert themselves on players that didn’t cost a penny and house-share with team mates.

Yes, the pitch was small and bobbly and the conditions were atrocious but United looked slow and laboured. The number of times Phil Jones strode out of defence with the ball, only to get to the halfway line, hesitate and pass sideways or backwards, was astonishing.

Daley Blind looked awkward at left back, the signs clearly there that he is a central player, end of story. Cambridge defended well and compacted themselves on the edge of their 18 yard box, making it very difficult for Falcao or James Wilson to get in behind.

Only twice did United do that, once when Falcao was denied by a great save and also when van Persie managed to blaze over from five yards.

Adnan Januzaj looked slow every time he got the ball, reluctant to use his pace and run at the right-back. Antonio Valencia was much the same on the opposite wing. Perhaps what was needed was Ashley Young to run at the Cambridge defence and cross a ball in, given that the central route clearly wasn’t working.

There’s no doubt that it will be a totally different game at Old Trafford where United will make use of the bigger pitch and better conditions that will enable them to stretch Cambridge and create gaps. Despite that however it’s still a difficult one for United fans to swallow.

The question is, would a result like Friday’s have gone down so lightly with David Moyes in charge?

Soccer - FA Cup - Fourth Round - Cambridge United v Manchester United - The R Costings Abbey Stadium It was another disappointing night for Louis van Gaal and Man United. Source: EMPICS Sport

Walcott and Ozil on target as Cup holders Arsenal hold off Brighton

Sakho heads Hammers into the last 16 while Aston Villa push past Bournemouth

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