The FA Cup might have come under some scrutiny in the past few years for being a ‘throwaway trophy’, but with the traditionally ‘bigger’ sides taking it more seriously, it has been reborn.
With the quarter-final draw already taken place, there are some fascinating matches lying ahead as clubs aim for a trip to Wembley.
Here are five things we learned from this weekend’s action:
VAR is an absolute shambles
What took place at the John Smiths Stadium between Huddersfield Town and Manchester United was an absolute mockery of the new technology Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
The Football Association’s use of VAR has caused some controversy so far, with fans suggesting that it slows down the game which can downplay the emotion in football. They have a point, and the use of it in this game was an advertisement for that argument being put forward.
VAR is used when a ‘clear and obvious error has been made’, which makes it baffling that it was used in ruling Juan Mata’s goal offside. As seen on TV, it was a matter of inches between the Spaniard’s knee being onside and offside, something which is not a ‘clear and obvious error’. It was something that no human could register with their eyes, but it was by no means a howler of a mistake. It’s football and that happens.
The right decision was made in the end and Mata was offside – just – but it’s more about how long they came to that decision, the process involved and the whole matter of their definition of a ‘clear and obvious error’ that has rightly disappointed people in the technology.
Also the fact that BT Sport, the production company who covered the game, were sent the images used by VAR to ascertain the decision and the lines on the pitch looked like they were drawn by a three-year-old.
It was amateurish from start to finish and totally caused the tension and energy of the game to fizzle out momentarily.
Magic of the FA Cup
What a weekend for Rochdale Football Club. Some are too quick to negate the FA Cup’s importance and what it does for the clubs lower down the football league ladder.
When Harry Kane scored Tottenham’s penalty in the 88th minute to complete the comeback, and practically win the game, Rochdale’s fans must have thought that it had been a good ride, but that was it.
What entailed next was the FA Cup at its absolute best. Four minutes of injury time were added on and in the third, with seconds left to play, a cross from the left-hand side is floated into the box. With Toby Alderweireld skewing his clearance, it falls perfectly into the path of Steve Davies, who gets the ball out of his feet and smashes it home to send Rochdale to Wembley for the replay.
It was a great FA Cup moment and you could sense by the atmosphere at Spotland Stadium what it mean to those Dale fans. A game that they will never forget.
West Brom really are in trouble
After the news broke that four senior West Brom players, including captain Jonny Evans, were involved in stealing a taxi home to their hotel while away on a warm-weather training camp, West Brom needed a big result in the FA Cup to ease the mood.
Alan Pardew said he was ‘furious’ but felt that he needed to give Gareth Barry and Evans a chance to redeem themselves on the pitch against Southampton.
However, that did not come to fruition. The Baggies might have had 23 shots – seven being on-target – but their lack of a clinical edge let themselves down and Southampton came out the winners and progressed into the quarter-finals.
West Brom fans will be wanting this season to end in a hurry, but with them hopefully surviving the dreaded drop. But sitting in last place, seven points off safety, it looks like they will need to conquer a mountain in order to remain in the Premier League.
The Baggies have been flirting with relegation for a number of years and poor recruitment has finally taken its toll. Pardew’s men look beaten and the mood inside the camp is obviously very taught given incidents such as the one in Barcelona are taking place.
Quarter finals set up potential tasty semi finals
It was an odd moment, but the quarter-final draw for the FA Cup was made after Saturday evening’s fixture between Manchester United and Huddersfield Town.
Manchester United will take place in a repeat of the 1983 FA Cup final against Brighton, while Southampton will travel to the home ground of the winner between Manchester City and Wigan Athletic.
Tottenham or Rochdale will face Swansea or Sheffield Wednesday, and Leicester meet Chelsea at the King Power Stadium in an all-Premier League tie.
The so-called ‘bigger’ teams have missed one another in the quarters, and so there could be Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United entering the realm of Wembley in the semi-finals.
It is always good to see the best teams in the country make it to the latter stages of the FA Cup and only helps reinforce the competition’s status as one to be taken seriously.
Chelsea rekindling old form under Antonio Conte
Two emphatic wins in their last two matches against West Brom and Hull show that the Italian manager hasn’t lost the dressing room, yet.
The Blues have two more important fixtures against Barcelona in the Champions League and a visit to Old Trafford next Sunday in the Premier League. Conte’s future appears to be hanging by a thread whether he walks away in the summer or not, and so big performances are needed in a week that will have many onlookers.
Conte’s men have regained their composure in front of goal and have scored seven in their last two matches – albeit against lesser opposition. Barcelona’s nemesis in Europe has been Chelsea, and so it will be interesting to see if Chelsea can record a positive result at Stamford Bridge and nullify the effect of Lionel Messi – a player who has never scored against the Blues.
Chelsea have a battle for the top four, along with Manchester United, and so the crunch match – especially between managers – will make for fascinating viewing next weekend. Make sure not to miss it!