The momentum of this strangest of Premier League seasons slowed a little this weekend, as half the league's fixtures were postponed to make way for the FA Cup quarterfinals. So did English football take this opportunity to restore some order, tidy things up and take a bit of a breather? Ahahaha. Ahahahahaha. Ahahahahahahahaha. Friend, Arsenal were playing.
Reading 0-2 Crystal Palace (FA Cup)
Leicester City vs. Newcastle
The Cup steps up
Anything the shiny new Premier League can do, the knackered old FA Cup can do pretty well too. Though the only remaining team from below the top flight was eliminated — Reading, at the hands of Crystal Palace — the cup continued this season's theme by making the big beasts of English football look very silly indeed.
First Chelsea, chasing their last chance of silverware for the season, were undone by Everton. And while conceding twice to the brilliant Romelu Lukaku is nothing to be ashamed of — unless, perhaps, you were the club that sold him — Chelsea will presumably be concerned that (a) their exceptionally expensive team failed to score past a Roberto Martínez defence, and (b) an opposition player had to issue a statement explicitly denying that Diego Costa had bitten anyone. At that point, the PR war's already been lost.
Then Arsenal, who are still technically in the Champions League and still more-or-less in the title race, but would certainly have been eyeing the Cup as their best shot at a trophy. They even got a stroke of luck, too, as Gabriel planted both his feet into an opponent's shin without even conceding a foul. But they were undone by two familiar failings: the inability to defend and the inability to score. Rather important for a football team, those, and the only reason the Emirates wasn't swamped in the usual chorus of boos was that half the fans had left well before Danny Welbeck spurned an unlikely equaliser by missing an open goal.
We'd have lost Manchester United, too, had Louis van Gaal's mess of a team not managed to scramble a late leveler against West Ham. The Londoners will be slight favourites for the replay, and should they make it through, we'll have the semifinal lineup this strange season deserves. Two of the teams involved, Palace and Watford, have never won the Cup before; Everton haven't won it since 1995; and West Ham haven't lifted the trophy since 1980. Who knew the collapse of all established truths and hierarchies could be so much fun?
Rafa Benítez vs. The Dream
Back to the league, and for 44 tense minutes it looked as though Tottenham were about to break new ground in silliness. Then the wonderful Dele Alli passed to the wonderful Harry Kane, who rolled the ball past the deeply sad Brad Guzan, and Spurs' inevitable victory over Aston Villa came to pass. That win puts Kane and friends six points clear of Arsenal, who were busy getting shown up in the cup, and just two behind leaders and dream weavers Leicester.
Last week, Leicester's home game against Newcastle United looked like a fairly simple proposition. But then Newcastle's board members roused themselves from their slumber, glanced at the league table and realised that they were in some trouble. Steve McClaren has gone, and Rafa Benítez is back where he belongs, in the Premier League, ready to get right up the noses of opposition managers. Which all of a sudden makes this impending fixture very interesting indeed. After all, Benítez is very good at organising a football team, and until now Newcastle have been cosmically disorganised. Take that, add the new manager bounce and give it a mix. Things might be about to get tight again at the top ...
... or, alternatively, Leicester might win, and in the process go five points clear of Spurs, 11 (!) clear of Arsenal and 12 (!?!) clear of Manchester City, whose players have decided that the best way to impress Pep Guardiola is by taking the rest of the season off, the better to be nice and fresh for the next campaign. Sure, it might be in the Europa League, but oh, how fresh they'll be.
Guedioura did a really hard shot
If there's a better way of scoring a goal than kicking it as hard as physically possible into the very top of the net, we don't know what it is. It's a good job Ospina didn't see Adlene Guedioura's shot, otherwise he might have tried to save it. And while he wouldn't have been able to, he might have ended up without any arms.
Lukaku did a really good dribble
Credit: user tisfootball on r/soccer
Actually, dribbling through the entire defence of the team that decided you weren't good enough might be better. Ah, soccer. Such a broad spectrum of happiness and joy.