1) The magic of the Cup is alive and well
Since the advent of the Champions League and Premier League in the early 1990s, when the clubs at the top of the tree got richer and the rest got left behind, the FA Cup has taken more and more of a back seat.
Since Tottenham won the competition in 1991, Cup shocks have become much less frequent, with Everton in 1995, Portsmouth in 2008 and Wigan in 2013 the only occasions where one of Liverpool (won it twice), Arsenal (seven times), Manchester United (four times), Chelsea (six times) or Manchester City (once) haven’t won it.
A smattering of other teams have made runs to the final, but in that period only three teams from outside the top flight have made it to the final (Sunderland, Millwall, Cardiff) and none have won it.
This weekend was definitely the best weekend of FA Cup action in recent memory and easily one of the best ever. The current Premier League top three tumbled out of the competition, Chelsea and Manchester City to lower league opposition, while Tottenham lost to bottom of the league Leicester, Swansea lost at Cardiff, Sunderland and Liverpool were both held at home to Championship teams, and Manchester United were forced into a replay by the lowest-ranked team left in the competition.
There is plenty of worthwhile debate for FA Cup reform, the showpiece final being played after the end of the Premier League season is a great start. but as long as lesser teams can keep beating their superiors, the Cup will always retain its magic.
2) Not a bad result for United
Louis van Gaal’s team were simply not good enough at the Abbey Stadium on Friday night and the longer the game went on the more the League Two side grew in confidence. United created chances and were unlucky not to score but it was a disjointed performance against the U’s.
Van Gaal blamed his players but the 3-5-2 formation seemed unnecessary, the Dutch coach needlessly created less space for the likes of Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini and Angel Di Maria to operate on what was already a tight pitch and a poor surface.
Given the results that followed this isn’t too bad a result, United will most likely win the replay at Old Trafford and are now among the favourites to win the competition.
3) Mourinho can’t rely on his second-string
Unbelievable, unthinkable, uncharacteristic. This team may have been playing in the blue of Chelsea but it was unlike anything seen at Stamford Bridge since the arrival of Roman Abramovic.
Coming into the game Chelsea had won 14 out of 15 matches at Stamford Bridge this season – for the Blues to lose at home with a two-goal lead is unthinkable, let alone for it to happen against a team just outside the play-offs in League One.
It’s difficult to find a single player to blame for the performance, the whole team was culpable.
Jose Mourinho has had a settled team during his Premier League and Champions League campaigns, with six players playing at least 26 of the 28 games. After this performance it might be because the reserves aren’t up to scratch to risk in the top competitions.
4) City missing their X Factor
Like Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini played a weakened team, but still included several of his first-team regulars; James Milner, Vincent Kompany, Jesus Navas, David Silva and Sergio Aguero.
City had a huge amount of possession and some great chances – it was their defending that let them down. Kompany continues to struggle and is not close to the man that won Premier League Player of the Season in 2012, while Aguero has come back from injury and really struggled, a midweek trip to Abu Dhabi didn't help.
The biggest miss, however, is Yaya Toure. Fernando made a huge mistake for the first goal and has struggled to adapt to English football. As long as the Ivorian stays in the African Cup of Nations City will not carry the same threat.
City have drawn one and lost two of the three matches the midfielder has now missed. A defeat at Chelsea will leave them eight points adrift in the race for the Premier League title. City fans will be desperate for Cameroon to beat the Ivory Coast on Wednesday evening.
5) Gunners on a roll
The weekend could not have gone any better for the Gunners. Playing on Sunday, Arsene Wenger’s team knew all they had to do was win and they’d instantly be installed as the favourites to retain their trophy.
They did just that, thanks to a brilliant Tomas Rosicky performance that included a sublime volley and an assist for the returning Mesut Ozil. The Gunners are final heading back to full strength and, bar the slip-up against Southampton on New Year’s Day, have won eight and drawn one of their last 10 matches.
6) Pardew and Pulis soldiers of good fortune
Mid-season managerial changes either go very well or have no impact at all.
It’s fair to say that Pardew and Pulis have gone very well so far, with the two managers now unbeaten in eight games between them, with West Brom’s impressive draw at Everton the only time the pair have not recorded a victory.
7) The pursuit of silverware
This season now represents the best chance a mid-table or lower club has a chance to win some silverware in a very long time. West Ham, Aston Villa, Stoke City and West Brom are the best of the chasing pack and have been established Premier League club for a long time.
But despite their status in the top-flight, fans of the four sides have been starved of silverware for a very long time. Not since Aston Villa won the League Cup in 1996 have any of those four won a major honour, while you have to go back to the early 1980s for Villa and West Ham’s glory years.
The time is now.
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