Monday, February 18, 2008

FA Cup Fifth Round: February 16-17

Liverpool 1-2 Barnsley
I don't know how many times I can keep saying the same things: "They didn't play badly, but..." "It's not a bad result, but..." But, but,'s not good enough.

I've seen other people complaining about the lineup that Rafa put out, but I didn't have a problem with that; even without Torres and Gerrard, they still ought to have been able to win, and win easily. The one player I would quibble about, though, is Itandje in goal. When do you decide that he's simply not good enough, even as a backup keeper? Because I think he was at fault for Barnsley's first goal, where he started to come for the ball and then got caught out of position.

Liverpool did have lots of chances, but were foiled by a combination of (a) very good goalkeeping by Luke Steele on his debut; (b) woeful finishing -- I lost count of the number of scuffed shots; and (c) hordes of Barnsley players flinging themselves at the ball for crucial blocks. Barnsley worked their asses off for 90 minutes and thoroughly deserved that fairy-tale last-minute winner. But Liverpool should also be questioning themselves for not taking advantage of more of the chances they created, and also for not creating better chances. If you're up against a team that's packing players into the box, then you need to find a way to draw them out, find space and attack quickly, leave the defenders chasing you around the pitch.

So, the Champions League it is then. No problem. Liverpool just have to get past the best team in Serie A. Shouldn't be too difficult for a club that can't even beat a mid-table Championship side.

Incidentally, on the Xabi Alonso watch (because I have my little preoccupations; bear with me), I thought he had a pretty good game. Aside from, um, losing the ball in the buildup to Barnsley's winning goal. Of course, that doesn't matter at all, because it just means he won't play against Inter on Tuesday. Yay for rotation.

Manchester United 4-0 Arsenal
Ahahahahaha, fantastic. That certainly cheered me up after the Liverpool game. (Sadly, Sarah probably hates me this weekend.) And it's a great psychological boost for United as they try to close the five-point gap on Arsenal in the league.

I was skeptical about the lineup, particularly with Cristiano Ronaldo not even on the bench -- apparently the poor baby had a tummy-ache. But Arsenal fielded an understrength team too, without Adebayor and a few other first-string players. I think Fergie and Arsene were playing a calculated game to see which of them could weaken his team the most and still win. The answer, clearly, was not Arsenal.

United were two-nil up within the first 20 minutes, helped by some less than stellar Arsenal defending that let both Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher score from headers. Neither of them is, as far as I know, supposed to be particularly good in the air. Although to be fair to Arsenal, it seems that we got the Scotland Darren Fletcher (i.e., the one that's not crap) rather than the Man Utd version.

Nani added a third goal before halftime, and more than made up for Ronaldo's absence with a couple of juggling exhibitions later in the game that were basically designed to make Arsenal look like idiots. Emmanuel Eboue had been sent off early in the second half, too, for an inexplicable lunge at Patrice Evra, and United seemed to be playing for fun after that. They were springing Arsenal's offside trap easily all game, and the final score could've easily been six-nil if some of those passes had been a bit better weighted or Rooney's first touch more assured. They did manage to score a fourth, though, and the fact that Darren Fletcher got two goals says it all, really.

Other results
Preston 0-1 Portsmouth
Sheffield United 0-0 Middlesbrough
Cardiff 2-0 Wolverhamption
Coventry 0-5 West Brom
Chelsea 3-1 Huddersfield Town
Bristol Rovers 1-0 Southampton

Quarter-final draw
Sheffield United/Middlesbrough v Cardiff City
Manchester United v Portsmouth
Bristol Rovers v West Brom
Barnsley v Chelsea

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