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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Premier League and FA Cup: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action | Football

1) Have Barkley’s best years gone to waste?

Chelsea’s Abramovich era has launched the careers of many promising footballers into the stratosphere. It has also halted a few in their tracks. Steve Sidwell, Scott Parker and Danny Drinkwater all left clubs where they were hot properties to sign for Chelsea, where they spent varying portions of their prime years watching blankly from the dugout. To this list we can add Ross Barkley, trusted to take a penalty but nothing more on Saturday by a manager for whom he has played 428 minutes this season. Five years after moving to west London, Barkley has started fewer league games for Chelsea than he did in his final season at Everton, and has had as many managers as he has scored league goals. Not every talented youngster will fulfil their potential; not every transfer will be a success. But it’s hard to think back to Barkley’s breakout years and not lament the scattergun stockpiling in which football’s super-clubs can afford to indulge. Alex Hess

2) Destiny still lies in Burnley’s grasp

Two straight defeats have taken Burnley back into the relegation zone and Thursday’s visit to Aston Villa has assumed monumental proportions. There was room for optimism in a battling performance at Tottenham that arguably deserved a draw, though. “I am really proud of the group,” Mike Jackson said. “They had a right go today. I’ve seen a group that was fighting and had spirit.” A point at Villa Park will keep their fate in their hands. Jackson will have to decide whether to stick with the five-man back line that largely blunted Spurs, or whether to be more expansive and go for the early goal that might make life considerably easier. There is the added complication that, unusually, they played Villa at home nine days ago and were well beaten. Jackson must get the formula right but has shown an ability to set up a team that can handle the fight. Nick Ames

3) Talismanic Zaha still willing to take the bait

Wilfried Zaha is enjoying fruitful times. As his powers peak, so do his returns. More finisher than creator now, Zaha’s 13 league goals this season is a career high. His previous best (11) came last year. But that less welcome part of his game – the side that sees him engage with baying crowds – remains. At Villa Park, Zaha did so with a beaming smile but it is still energy best channelled elsewhere. “This is part of Wilfried, his character, his personality,” explained Patrick Vieira. “It is a strength and a weakness at the same time. He is a target player and has to manage his mind, to keep that energy, that strength to allow him to make the difference in the last third.” Vieira knows that when Zaha mismanages things, life becomes easier for his opponents. “It’s a sideshow,” Steven Gerrard said. “He had a really quiet afternoon. We dealt with him really well.” Sam Dalling

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4) Struijk gives Leeds hope and belief

Pascal Struijk’s added-time equaliser for Leeds not only changes the dynamics surrounding the final week of the relegation battle but the entire mentality around Elland Road. Just a few minutes before Struijk scrambled home Joe Gelhardt’s cross, deafening renditions of Marcelo Bielsa’s name could be heard before the home supporters turned their ire on the board. It threatened to overshadow the bigger challenge at hand for Leeds, given how sacking Bielsa in February remains an incredible gamble that remains grossly unpopular with large swathes of Leeds fans. But as Struijk headed home and Elland Road erupted, the mood changed, as did the permutations. Burnley could change the whole script again if they get a result at Aston Villa on Thursday night but for the first time in a few weeks, Leeds supporters can look at the table with tentative confidence. If momentum really is a thing in sport then Struijk, the unlikeliest of heroes, has ensured Leeds have at least a sliver of it with one game remaining. Aaron Bower

5) Daka must step up to phase out Vardy

It’s been a strange season for Leicester. Last year’s FA Cup win came off the back of two strong league campaigns, and it looked like a young, talented, improving squad would push on again. But though things haven’t turned out like that, they haven’t wasted their time. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall has established himself, James Maddison has rediscovered himself – and Harvey Barnes – scorer of two fine goals – is a better player now than in August. But at some point soon, and despite his brace, they must replace Jamie Vardy. In an ideal world, his role from now on would be as rotation player and impact sub. The question is whether Patson Daka is ready to step up. Though he has shown flashes of immense ability – at both Leicester and RB Salzburg – he has struggled in recent months. The onus is now on him to find the consistency it’ll take to displace a club legend. Daniel Harris

Match report: Watford 1-5 Leicester

‘Win our game to be champion’: Guardiola says Premier League is in Manchester City’s hands – video

6) Fernandinho struggles in emergency role

Manchester City’s injury worries in defence are well documented, but it was interesting last week to see Fernandinho support the idea that youngsters CJ Egan-Riley and Lucas Mbete deserved some game time in the title run-in. At West Ham, Pep Guardiola opted for experience, with Fernandinho starting at centre-back. The Brazilian is a legend at City but increasingly looking like a weak link, with Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen exposing the 37-year-old on the counter. Both West Ham’s goals capitalised on the space in behind and Fernandinho was also wasteful with the ball, including a poor back-pass that might have led to a third Hammers goal. Fernandinho deserves some sort of send-off before his return to Brazil this summer but it would be a shock to see him deployed in defence again for City’s crucial final game against Aston Villa. Michael Butler

7) Wolves must remedy scoring problems

It’s hard to know what to make of Wolves. They’re far more enjoyable to watch under Bruno Lage than they were when Nuno Espírito Santo was in charge. And yet 37 goals in 37 games – the fewest of any side outside the bottom three – is almost as miserable as last season’s 36 in 38, the lowest outside the bottom four. Something has to change, and Lage will hope he has the internal solutions. After 10 months out with injury, Pedro Neto is back, and will be much the better for a full pre-season. But the form of Raúl Jiménez must be a worry, his 44 appearances yielding only nine goals, eight yellow cards, and two red cards. The hope is that he is building back confidence and sharpness after a long time out as a result of a potentially life-threatening head injury, but if he does not start next season well, his manager will – reluctantly, no doubt – need an alternative. Daniel Harris

Match report: Wolves 1-1 Norwich

Frank Lampard is disconsolate after Everton’s defeat by Brentford
Everton might have been safe by now but defeat to Brentford kept them in the relegation fight. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

8) Chaos threatens to drag Everton down

Just when it seemed Everton had edged their way to safety, they returned to the farce that has dragged them down all season. Two red cards and some desperate defending left Frank Lampard’s team needing something from Thursday at home to Crystal Palace and next Sunday at Arsenal to stay ahead of Burnley and Leeds. In the Goodison stands, Joe Royle and Peter Reid, both playing legends, with Royle a former manager, looked on, while the chairman, Bill Kenwright, looked positively tortured alongside them. Each of those famous Evertonians would recognise the mayhem that can grip their beloved club. It had briefly seemed that Lampard had harnessed the chaos, and Everton fans have responded warmly enough to his leadership. But his team still have no recognisable approach and lack discipline. Burnley’s and Leeds’s problems mean Everton will probably survive but a tough close-season awaits. Farce, chaos and mayhem rarely add up to sustained success. John Brewin

Match report: Everton 2-3 Brentford

9) England’s women’s team blessed with riches

The England coach, Sarina Wiegman, was at Wembley on Sunday and will surely have learned far more from this high-stakes FA Cup final than any number of bloodless qualifiers. Keira Walsh and Alex Greenwood both excelled in defeat for Manchester City; Millie Bright and Jess Carter both advanced their cases for Chelsea. But the real bright spot was City winger Lauren Hemp, who feels increasingly pivotal to England’s chances this summer. The next big women’s game at Wembley will be the Euro 2022 final. Will England be there? Jonathan Liew

‘It means the world’: Liverpool and Klopp celebrate winning FA Cup – video

10) Reds harness history into shootout success

In August 1974, Liverpool beat Leeds United 6-5 on penalties to win the Charity Shield – the first of 26 shootouts in which they’ve competed. Of those, a quite ridiculous 19 have been won, including two European Cup finals, two FA Cup finals and three League Cup finals. Two of them have come this season, at the end of goalless draws against Chelsea. On the face of things, what happened in, say, Rome in 1984 has nothing whatsoever to do with what happened at Wembley on Saturday. But an overall success rate of 73.08% cannot possibly be a coincidence, and instead speaks volumes about Liverpool’s mythology and self-mythologising – veins into which Jürgen Klopp has tapped so astutely. Of course, all professional footballers are capable of beating a goalkeeper with a free shot from 12 yards, but Klopp has given those who play for him confidence, entitlement and aggression, their sense of history and destiny bordering on the messianic – and they are not finished yet. Daniel Harris

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