Chelsea rally amid increasing uncertainty

Timo Werner celebrates after equalising for Chelsea

Image: Timo Werner celebrates after equalising for Chelsea

Chelsea Football Club have endured a tumultuous week. The ongoing crisis in Ukraine puts such a statement into context, context that Chelsea’s difficulties pale into insignificance compared to those experiencing unimaginable hardship in Europe, but it has been tumultuous, nonetheless.

Thomas Tuchel has had a week like no other in his managerial career. Sunday’s Carabao Cup final on the pitch has been followed by intense questioning off it, with Roman Abramovich’s ownership of Chelsea under scrutiny and dominating the agenda in light of the escalating Russian assault in Ukraine.

On Wednesday evening, those questions received a seismic response.

An hour before Chelsea’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Luton Town, Abramovich signalled the impending end of his 19-year-old reign as owner of the Blues, an association which has delivered 19 major trophies but also one which ends with the Stamford Bridge club shrouded in controversy and uncertainty.

To their credit, Tuchel’s players produced a professional performance to ensure this season’s FA Cup campaign was not derailed in the immediate aftermath of Abramovich’s announcement. For 90 brief minutes, football was the only thing on the agenda.

Championship side Luton were dreaming of causing a major upset when Reece Burke and Harry Cornick put them 2-1 up at the break, but Romelu Lukaku’s late goal secured passage to the quarter-finals after earlier strikes from Saul Niguez and Timo Werner at Kenilworth Road.

Chelsea now look ahead to Thursday’s quarter-final draw and the next hurdle in their quest for a maiden domestic cup under Tuchel. Matters on the pitch provide respite, however temporary or insignificant, from a crisis gripping the club – a new era, and life after Abramovich. Jack Wilkinson

Will the real Spurs please stand up?

Harry Kane had a strike disallowed against Middlesbrough

Image: Harry Kane had a strike disallowed against Middlesbrough

You just never know which Spurs will turn up these days.

Antonio Conte named an unchanged line-up after the 4-0 win at Leeds over the weekend, but the Italian was rewarded with an abject performance from his players.

Middlesbrough simply showed more desire than Tottenham, and that will concern everyone associated with Spurs. Boro were the better side throughout with 19-year-old Josh Coburn settling the tie in extra-time, ensuring Spurs will end another season without a trophy.

Who knows how Conte will react to this defeat as their inconsistency continues to derail any progress and this result could have implications over his long-term future as well as that of Harry Kane, whose desire to win silverware is consistently not met at Spurs.

Only a strong finish in the Premier League and a late surge into the top four can rescue this season, but that looks a stretch on this evidence.

Boro will be hoping for another home tie in Thursday’s quarter-final draw. They had won seven straight games heading into this one, with victory ensuring their record of not having lost at home in the FA Cup in more than four years continues.

Middlesbrough last reached the FA Cup final 25 years ago, and are now potentially 180 minutes from returning there.

Time for Grealish to kick on at City

Jack Grealish celebrates his goal with team-mates

Image: Jack Grealish celebrates his goal with team-mates

There will be sterner tests for Jack Grealish in a Manchester City shirt, but on his return from injury the former Aston Villa man made the kind of goalscoring contribution in his side’s FA Cup fifth-round win at Peterborough he’s been desperate to make.

There has been plenty of noise around Grealish since his £100m move to Manchester City last summer and plenty of criticism of his output with the Premier League leaders this season. Grealish had scored just three goals in 25 appearances in all competitions for City before the FA Cup win and it was something the England international admitted he needed to improve on after scoring his side’s second goal in the 2-0 win at the Weston Homes Stadium

He said: “I expect more [from myself]. I wanted to get a lot more, but I have been speaking with the manager a lot recently and he has been helping me. I want to get goals and assists, but he has said it is not all about that. I have played in a lot of big games this season which the manager has trusted me where I have not got goals or assists, and feel like I have done alright. I do want to get more goals and assists, and hopefully that will come now for the big part of the season.”

He made a good start at Peterborough.

After a difficult first half, City showed their quality in the second half and the tie was finished off by a special goal from Grealish. It was a goal Sky Sports‘ Roy Keane described on ITV Sport as the highlight of the night as Grealish latched onto Phil Foden’s exquisite pass to score his first FA Cup goal and his fourth goal of the season to seal his side’s passage into the FA Cup quarter-finals.

He played really well and had chances in the first half that were more difficult, then he was more involved in the second half. He is so important for us. Jack has come back from injury and he is playing at a really good level.

“You do want more goals and more assists from him, but his goal was the highlight of the game,” Keane said after City’s 2-0 win. “Jack is a good link-up player, but sometimes that is easy to defend. Sometimes it is just about making that run, having the desire and the intelligence to make that run because you know the players you are playing with will pick you out. The goal will do Jack the world of good.”

Man City will be hoping both Grealish and Keane are right because a Grealish firing on all cylinders will only add to Guardiola’s side’s armoury as we approach the business end of a season that sees the club still fighting on three fronts.
Oliver Yew

Cup specialist Minamino playing important role for Liverpool

Takumi Minamino celebrates after scoring against Norwich

Image: Takumi Minamino celebrates after scoring against Norwich

Takumi Minamino’s Liverpool career may not have taken off in the way he hoped when he joined the club in January 2020 – but he has carved out a valuable role for himself in this squad: cup specialist.

Opportunities have been limited in the Premier League but the Japan international scored four goals in five games to help Liverpool to the final of the Carabao Cup and, after missing out on even a minute of action at Wembley on Sunday, he responded the right way by scoring twice against Norwich in the FA Cup on Wednesday.

Those goals have sent Liverpool into their first FA Cup quarter-final of the Jurgen Klopp era and afterwards the manager was quick to praise the efforts of the 27-year-old, calling his display against Norwich his best for the club so far.

“He’s an incredible player,” Klopp told ITV. “[This was] the best game he’s had for us. He played a super game, was a constant threat, kept all the balls… I’m really happy for him.

“Without him we wouldn’t be in the quarter-finals. Without him we wouldn’t have been in the final of the Carabao Cup.”

Klopp has been less eager to talk up Liverpool’s chances of an unprecedented quadruple but with a busy run-in, fighting in three competitions to add to their League Cup silverware, they will need the strength in depth provided by the likes of Minamino. He may be down the Premier League pecking order at Liverpool but Minamino is playing an important part for the Reds this year.
Peter Smith

Palace must improve ahead of tough home matches

There were no attempts from Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira to dress up their laboured win over Stoke.

“I wasn’t really happy with the way we performed,” the Frenchman admitted. “We didn’t play well at all. I was really disappointed by the performance.”

After what should have been a joyous moment for the Eagles as they reached the last eight of the FA Cup, Vieira’s honesty is to be admired – but his criticism was calculated.

You only have to look at the front cover of Tuesday night’s matchday programme to realise why, as it boldly advertised the club’s next two home matches: Manchester City and Arsenal.

Crystal Palace matchday programme against Stoke

Image: Crystal Palace’s matchday programme against Stoke on Tuesday night

Vieira knows that if his side – who scored from their only two shots on target against Stoke – perform like they did against Michael O’Neill’s team, then they will be taking zero points from those next two games at Selhurst Park.

Yes, Vieira made five changes against Stoke – including a first start for 18-year-old left-back Tayo Adaramola – but with the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Michael Olise starting, the Palace fans would have been expecting better, especially against a Championship side that was without a win in four games.

In fact, the pre-match light show proved to be far more electrifying than anything Palace produced in the first-half, which was so poor that the referee could not even be bothered to add any time on. And who could blame him, after both sides failed to have a shot on target.

Crystal Palace's Cheikhou Kouyate celebrates with team-mates after scoring against Stoke

Image: Crystal Palace’s Cheikhou Kouyate celebrates with team-mates after scoring the opener against Stoke

The second half was thankfully more entertaining, however, as Palace scraped to a win to keep up their recent good form that has seen them lose only one of their last seven matches.

But if they want to keep that run going, and potentially reach Wembley in the FA Cup, then some serious improvement will be needed – so it is just as well Vieira has publicly acknowledged this.
Declan Olley

Rotation pays off for Saints, West Ham burnout?

Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl celebrates victory after the final whistle

Image: Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl celebrates victory after the final whistle

Ralph Hasenhuttl made a bold call to change nine of his Southampton players from their 2-0 win over Norwich last Friday night as only James Ward-Prowse and Kyle Walker-Peters kept their places.

With relegation from the Premier League not a concern and no other potential silverware on offer, had Saints been knocked out in the fifth round, it would not have gone down well with their supporters. Indeed, the reaction to their starting XI was bad enough.

Oriol Romeu, Che Adams, Nathan Redmond, Stuart Armstrong, Armando Broja and Tino Livramento were all benched yet Hasenhuttl’s squad players stepped up to the mark.

And in the end, substitute Broja made a big impact when he came on at half-time, winning a penalty which Ward-Prowse dispatched and then scoring a superb solo goal.

In contrast, West Ham boss David Moyes fielded a strong side from the off, making just two alterations from their 1-0 victory over Wolves as they bid for a top-four finish and look to progress in the Europa League.

They started the tie well, but once Southampton’s new-look side found their rhythm, the Hammers could not match their pace and energy.

Southampton's Armando Broja (left) celebrates scoring their side's third goal of the game with Jack Stephens and Nathan Redmond

Image: Southampton’s Armando Broja (left) celebrates scoring their side’s third goal of the game with Jack Stephens and Nathan Redmond

Admittedly, West Ham’s squad lacks depth – shown with only Said Benrahma and Nikola Vlasic trusted to come off the bench – but after a gruelling victory over a resilient Wolves on Sunday, the team needed freshening up. That was certainly the thinking for Hasenhuttl after Friday night.

“It’s tough but as soon as you saw players struggling after the Norwich game we knew we should make changes,” he said. “You can’t speak about having a big squad and trusting everyone and not show the right signals.

“It was clear with five subs you can decide the game in the second half with subs. Armando Broja had a good impact in the game. He is a threat with speed. We have quality and created some good parts in our game.

“Making nine changes doesn’t mean that we’re not looking for this cup. It’s a super opportunity for us. But we shouldn’t forget these players have brought us here. We should give them a chance to play again.”
David Richardson