Monday, 6 January 2014

FA Cup reaction, yet more Moyes misery and Juventus take Serie A by the throat

Third round weekend in the world's most famous cup competition didn't produce any major giant killings, none of Wrexham and Arsenal 1992 proportions anyway, but still we saw upsets from Rochdale and Sheffield United and one of the favourites and the competition's most successful team ever, were dumped out in unceremonious fashion at home.

Eleven times FA Cup winners Manchester United went down 2-1 at home to Swansea on Sunday evening. It says a lot about how far United have fallen in the past six months that this was barely considered a shock but nevertheless it is a result which has piled yet more pressure on David Moyes. A fourth home defeat in six weeks and only United's second third round exit in thirty years was not exactly what the doctor ordered, particularly in a week where Wayne Rooney has decided to not-decide on his future until July at the earliest and United fans were warned against any new hope of January arrivals to breathe new life into this abomination of a season.

This sight is becoming all to familiar for United fans

United's recent home form is unlike anything seen at any time under Sir Alex Ferguson and is giving fans reason to question the former boss's final decision as manager, the appointment of his successor. Moyes is looking increasingly unsuitable for the role and you get the sense he's a bit over-awed by the club and its history, emphasised that he refers to them as 'Manchester United' rather than 'we' as most managers would. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him yet that's he's the man in charge of this club now. The decision to hand him a six year contract, the day after Fergie's retirement, is looking worse and worse by the week.

Ferguson's farewell speech to the Old Trafford faithful last May encouraging the crowd to get behind David Moyes and the vast majority of United fans have done so to this point, but even the most patient of fans, those that can remember the grim pre-Ferguson era, must surely be questioning Moyes's leadership at this stage. With Ferguson in charge you got that the players would do absolutely anything to win, that they would rather die out on the pitch than face him in the dressing room having lost so meekly on their home turf. Moyes seems unable to elicit the same sort of passion out of them and they don't seem to be motivated to play for him. To be fair that's not 100% his fault and blame should lie on both sides but in football when the players don't perform, the manager inevitably pays the price. It's not exactly fair but that's the way it is. Nobody expected the transition to be seamless, but nobody expected it to go quite this badly either.

United's demise in the competition will please the other favourites, all of whom bar Man City progressed to Round Four with no difficulty. City have a replay with Blackburn to come at the Etihad, Arsenal saw off Spurs with a convincing 2-0 win, emphasising that despite Spurs outspending them by more than 2:1 during the summer, North London remains very much theirs to rule. Liverpool saw off Oldham, giving them the edge in that head-to-head. They had been paired together the previous two seasons with both sides claiming a victory each. Everton dispatched Harry Redknapp's QPR at Goodison Park and FA Cup specialists Chelsea beat Championship high-fliers Derby at Pride Park.

Walcott cheekily reminding Spurs fans the score

Derby really impressed me at times during this game although Chelsea's obvious class showed in the second half and they won fairly comfortably in the end. Players like Jeff Hendrick, John Eustace and the highly rated Will Hughes had good games. Steve Mclaren has done a really good job there since he took over in September and given the form they are in, it would not at all be a huge surprise to see Derby back in the Premier League next season. The club will be desperate to make up for a quite disastrous 2007/08 season, the last time they reached the top tier and won only 11 points all year.

Chelsea were not at their best yet still won quite convincingly. They are starting to look ominously good as the season turns into the business end. I'm of the opinion this this side is a leading striker away from being one of the best in Europe. Torres and Eto'o between them managed to fluff some golden chances on Sunday. Chances that an striker with an ounce of confidence would have put away. As is usually the case, the quality of their 3/4 line (the attacking midfield trio, Oscar, Ramires and Willian in this case) was enough to bail them out again. Were they to sign a striker of the calibre of Cavani, Falcao, Higuain or even Luis Suarez in the near future, this side would be unstoppable.

Oscar: Majestic yet again

League action got back underway across Europe following the winter break and the pick of the fixtures was in Italy where reigning champions and league leaders Juventus played host to undefeated Roma.

The game was fascinating tactically. Juventus, with the better side and playing in front of their own fans, surprisingly sat back and let Roma have the ball for the opening period for fear of being caught out by the pace of Roma's deadly counter attack. On virtually Juve's first attack, they scored through the wonderful Arturo Vidal which essentially won them the game. They continued to sit back and not press as much as they would normally do and doubled their lead from a set piece right after half time. Daniele De Rossi, who joked that he would have committed suicide if he had left Roma last summer, was sent off for a horrible lunge on Giorgo Chiellini on 75 mins. The resulting free kick lead to a blatant handball on the line, a second red card for Castan, 3-0 Juventus and a massive swing in the momentum of the Seire A title race.

Vidal: One of the world's top centre midfield players right now

It's a shame Juventus aren't still in the Champions League, as a result of bizarre circumstance and bad luck more than anything else. This side is really good, they had Andrea Pirlo back from injury last night forming a three man centre midfield along with Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba which is among the very best in the world. The three man defence of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini is incredibly solid and with Tevez in good form playing off Llorente up front, this side looks unstoppable as they march towards another Scudetto, what will be their 3rd in a row and 30th overall. This result sends them 8 points clear of Roma at the top and 10 ahead of probably their biggest threat in Napoli.

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