Football entered a funny time this week – no, not a time where Chelsea were rumoured to have to take a COACH to Middlesboro in the cup (they didnâ€™t, they flew – those players have deep pockets nowadays). But a time where there was minimal Premier League action prefacing the first international break of 2022 where there will be zero Premier League action.
But, there was the FA Cup – all was not lost (unless you were Everton then all was very much lost).
With so few matches, football started on Friday night in an attempt to spread the very thin football jam over the weekend toast – in other words, Wolves welcomed Leeds to Molineaux.
If anyone thought matches involving Leeds would be any less crazy since Bielsaball was consigned to the rubbish bin, they could not have been more wrong. A week ago, Joe Geldhardt was scoring in injury time to give Jesse Marsch his first win in the relegation-threatened hot seat. On Friday night, it was Luke Ayling doing the business in the 91st minute completing a successful comeback from 2-0 on the night.
Before we credit Leeds for making the right call in asking Marcelo to leave quietly and bringing in a close enough to be similar in style, but not so mentally obsessed with ignoring the need to do some actual defending once in a while Marsch, we should ponder whether the Wolves wheels are coming off? Bruno Lage went large on some of his younger players in recent weeks and this result will not help their European push, thatâ€™s for sure.
It didnâ€™t help that Raul Jiminez was sent off, collecting his second utterly bizarre red card of the season – but, back to crediting Leeds, the visitors did lose four players to injury including their goalkeeper and (obviously) Patrick Bamford.
Leeds now have a seven-point gap on Watford and will believe they stemmed the flow just in time.
1-0 to the Arsenal, eh? For all the Gooner baiting over the years, I actually want them to get a Champions League place. They have the youngest squad, have been brave enough to stick by a manager who at times has looked a little lost, have treated the FA Cup with respect and won it (and been rubbish enough to get knocked out by Forest in this seasonâ€™s 3rd round), binned off Ozil and their overpaid striker who just stopped scoring in favour of trusting said kids and made me eat massive amounts of humble pie over Aaron Ramsdale who I now actually love.
Scoring early at Villa Park then easing their way to victory doesnâ€™t feel like something any of the other top four pretenders could pull out of the bag right now. Bakayo Saka got the goal and then nearly put himself out for six months attempting a knee-slide celebration that was even worse than Lukakuâ€™s effort all that time ago this season.
If Frank Lampard broke his hand celebrating Evertonâ€™s 1-0 midweek win over Newcastle, he must have been tempted to break the other one punching anything in sight after his side fell 4-0 to Palace in the FA Cup on Sunday.
Everton started well, clearly buoyed by the fact that theyâ€™d created marginal breathing space in the relegation battle they are very much in. The problem is, starting well isnâ€™t the same as winning – and the moment Englandâ€™s latest call-up Marc Guehi headed home unmarked from a corner you knew which way this one was going. That said, 4-0 really stuck the knife in.
I honestly cannot see Watford, Burnley or, er, Norwich doing enough to get out of the dropzone – meaning Everton will survive by the old adage of just needing to find three teams more pants than they are. Itâ€™s not Frankâ€™s fault though, remember. All Rafa. All Rafa.
Of course Chelsea werenâ€™t going to drive up to Teeside. The moment Kai Havertz suggested the players might have a bit of a whip-round and spare the loose change needed to charter a flight, there was more chance of Romelu Lukaku scoring than them arriving on four (or twelve, how many wheels does a coach need and how many coaches were needed?) wheels. Hang on, Lukaku scored too so that doesnâ€™t work either.
Sporting integrity was hilariously ignored as Chelsea had 700 away fans who had bought their tickets before sanctions kicked in – and the game was as good as over before the Middlesboro fans had got through their sixth witty ditty about Roman and his club.
Tommy T is managing this situation well, all jokes aside. So much so, Manchester United have noticed Tuchelâ€™s ability to manage in a basket case scenario and think he would be a perfect fit for them at Old Trafford.
Southampton had managed to draw twice against Man City in the Premier League this season – leading some pundits to suggest that United had moved for the wrong German Ralf, completely missing that Hassenhutl is (a) Austrian and (b) a Ralph. They were good for their draw after 45 minutes in the FA Cup before City realised they still fancied a crack at a treble and scored three in the second half.
Cynics would say that Tottenham donâ€™t need to waste money on a third goalscorer at the club to support Kaneson – own goals are free and plentiful at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mind you, youâ€™d have thought Kurt Zouma has scored enough of them on and off the field this season.
You suspect some of West Hamâ€™s pre-match planning might have been to do with Harry Kane coming short and Heung-min Son running in behind. Knowing what is coming is one thing – stopping it, another entirely. Spursâ€™ win could well have ended West Hamâ€™s wafer-thin hopes of actual Champions League football – you know, unless they go and win the Europa League which isnâ€™t the craziest thing ever to have been suggested in this column.
Back before football was invented by Sky in 1992, Nottingham Forest and Liverpool was quite a rivalry. When this clueless scribe started watching his first games, Forest were certainly there or thereabouts in the First Division (without ever really challenging for it which was more than Man United were doing) and often ended up at Wembley for a cup final. And that, I am told, was a bit of a comedown after the thrills of the late 70s and early 80s.
So you can understand the noise and passion at the County Ground when the teams met for the first time in donkeys – donkeys being an apt choice of word for some of the players to have worn the Forest shirts in the post-Premier League wilderness years.
Not currently, though – Steve Cooper, a manager getting more than enough press off the back of their cup run, has put together a decent enough side this season. Decent enough to nearly put King Kloppâ€™s side in the exact position they didnâ€™t want to be in – another 30 minutes at the end of a frenetic quarter-final.
You suspect Liverpool would have rather given up their quadruple hopes than go to extra time – and with ten minutes left Diogo Jota got the winner.
Of course, it would have been completely different had Forest scored the chance they had two minutes earlier. The FA Cup can be both romantic and cruel, eh?