FA Cup review: Man Utd may prefer Romero over De Gea, Jones sums up Liverpool's strengths
The third round of the FA Cup is nearly complete (Arsenal host Leeds United in the round's final match on Monday, stream live on ESPN+). Here are the top takeaways from this past weekend's action.
Jump to: Jones embodies Liverpool depth | Everton players fail Ancelotti | Mourinho's defensive woes at Spurs | 40-year-old Wilbraham is all of us | Newcastle's frustration nothing new | Idah a Norwich option | Revival for Bournemouth's Wilson | Clarity in transfer plans? | Luckiest moment of weekend | Owls youngster's great interview
Should impotent United drop De Gea in favour of Romero?
The stat is perhaps a little harsh given that a) they hit the woodwork and b) Wolves managed only two themselves, but for Manchester United not to muster a single shot on target at Molineux was frankly pretty embarrassing. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said afterwards that a replay following the 0-0 result was the last thing anyone needed: He's right, but it almost seems churlish to point out that aiming a few efforts with a little more care would have rendered that problem moot.
There was better news at the other end of the pitch, where Sergio Romero produced a terrific performance to underline his status as probably the best backup keeper in the Premier League. The question now becomes whether he should merely be a back-up: David de Gea's form has been so patchy this season that it's genuinely worth wondering if Solskjaer should do the previously unthinkable and drop De Gea in favour of his Argentinean deputy.
Jones emphasises the strength of Liverpool
Curtis Jones is one of the names that has been spoken about for a while around Liverpool as one destined for the top, and his sensational strike to settle the Merseyside derby indicates that isn't all just talk. "If nothing strange happens, he'll be a Liverpool player, 100 percent," Jurgen Klopp said afterwards.
In a small way, Jones sums up this Liverpool team, partly because someone so young felt empowered to try an effort so audacious, but it was also striking in his postmatch interview that he remarked on being "frustrated" not to get more of a chance in the first team. You could put that down to confidence bordering on arrogance (the good kind), but just as likely is that youngsters like Jones know there's something exceptional happening at Anfield, and they're desperate to be as much a part of it as they can.
Everton didn't play like adults as Ancelotti needed them to
Conversely, this was an absolutely desperate showing by Everton. Carlo Ancelotti did the right thing by selecting a near-enough first-choice team to face the children of Anfield, but he was -- naively as it turns out -- banking on them playing like adults.
Liverpool's stand-in keeper Adrian received plenty of praise for the number of saves he made, in the first-half particularly, but most of the efforts were straight at him.
Had Everton's forwards directed their shots a little better, then we might be talking about a brave but doomed effort from Liverpool's plucky youngsters, but thanks to their anaemic showing, they're out and left hoping for a vague sniff of a Europa League place to salvage something from another dispiriting season.
More defensive problems for Mourinho
Another game without a clean sheet for Jose Mourinho's Tottenham (that's one in 12 now), another game they could do without full-stop after Middlesbrough earned a replay, and another piece of evidence pointing towards the uncomfortable realisation that replacing Mauricio Pochettino with Mourinho might not have been the wisest move.
Tranmere draw shows VAR absurdity
Tranmere make an epic comeback, but highlight the absurdity of VAR in the FA Cup
Tranmere have made something of a habit of comebacks this season: twice in League One they have come back from two goals down to claim draws, and against Burton in September they were 1-0 down as the 90th minute came and went, but won 2-1.
They wouldn't have done so on this occasion without VAR, though, which awarded them the penalty from which they clinched the 3-3 draw with Watford. But, of course, VAR is only used at Premier League grounds in the FA Cup, meaning that if a similar thing happens in the replay at Prenton Park, nothing can be done. It seems inconsistent at best, compromising to the competition in general that VAR can be used at some games, but not others.
Wilbraham provides comfort in a changing world
We'll get to the ongoing caravan of misery that is Newcastle United in a second, but before that let's take a moment for the man who continued that misery, Aaron Wilbraham. The grizzled old stager turned 40 in October, but he had the energy of a young sprite as he slotted home the equaliser for Rochdale on Saturday, earning a 1-1 draw and a replay. Wilbraham made his debut for Stockport in March 1998, meaning that three of his fellow Rochdale players weren't even alive when he first kicked a ball in the professional game.
Wilbraham is a familiar name to anyone who has followed the Football League over the past 20 years, so to see him arrive to top up the pots of Geordie despair was oddly comforting. "The second half went so quickly," said Wilbraham, who came off the bench and apparently thought he should have started. "I could've played for another hour."
A microcosm of Newcastle's season
If the game had gone on for a further hour, logically you would think that Newcastle would have made their theoretical superiority count, but they couldn't manage a second after goal machine Miguel Almiron's opener in 90 minutes, so who's to say another 60 would have been any use? Perhaps we should have seen this coming: Newcastle have only 20 goals to their name in the Premier League this season, a total bettered by bottom of the table Norwich.
Afterwards Steve Bruce, a man who does 'looking beleaguered' like no other manager, admitted that they're already finding it tough to bring in reinforcements, but reinforcements they need desperately. Joelinton has proved a £40million error for a club that can't afford to make £40 million errors, Andy Carroll is held together by bits of tape and string at the best of times, Yoshinori Muto has a single Newcastle strike to his name: indeed, not one but three defenders have scored more goals than all of Newcastle's supposed forwards this season.
This was Newcastle's season in microcosm, a frustrating, impotent performance that exposed the inadequacies of the players and coaches involved, but at the same time made you howl with frustration that they've been allowed to reach this point by an ownership that continues to make things worse and impedes progress. It's a mess, and it's tough to see it being anything else, anytime soon.
Idah an option for Farke
Speaking of Norwich and their lack of goals, this weekend has at the very least shown they have one potential solution to that problem already in their midst: Adam Idah might not be 100% ready for the rigours of the Premier League just yet, but at the very least his hat trick showed he is a live option for the second half of the season. And Daniel Farke will know that they need all the help they can get.
Could this be the start of Wilson's revival?
For a short, cruel while, it looked as if Dominic Solanke's dreams would be crushed and his year-long hunt for a goal would trudge on, as what he thought was a goal in the first half was chalked off by the big, unforgiving VAR machine. He smuggled one home later, his first since the £20 million move from Liverpool last January, and the inevitable question will be whether this is the start of something bigger for the striker.
Maybe, maybe not, but the ending of another dry spell might be more valuable for Eddie Howe: Callum Wilson hadn't scored since September before he notched against Luton, and if they are to dig themselves out of the mess they have found themselves in the Premier League, they need Wilson firing.
Will this weekend provide some clarity in transfer plans
While the FA Cup is, in the eyes of traditionalists at least, too august an institution to be treated merely as a test ground for the Premier League, the games over this weekend may have helped clarify a few transfer plans for the month. Leicester, for example, might need to step up their hunt for a new centre-back after injuries to their existing back-ups Wes Morgan and Filip Benkovic, and Liverpool may at least consider some full-back cover, depending on the severity of James Milner's injury.
One team it did emphasise needed a little more quality in their ranks was Aston Villa, knocked out by Championship side Fulham. Villa weren't exactly going great guns anyway, but season-ending injuries to Tom Heaton and Wesley Moraes further punches a hole in their resources. It may seem absurd after a summer in which they recruited 12 players, but Saturday showed that the reserves Villa currently have won't be enough to keep them in the Premier League.
Luckiest moment of the weekend
Blackpool striker Armand Gnanduillet has good cause to be confident: He has 12 league goals this season in a pretty moderate side, and had already bagged once when he was brought down for a penalty against Reading. But perhaps he should have wound that confidence in a bit when deciding on a method for that penalty, because the 'Panenka' that floated onto the crossbar and out could easily have cost his side a place in the fourth round draw: luckily for him they held on and will try again in a couple of weeks, much to Gnanduillet's relief.
This is what football can do
You'll probably have seen the clip of Sheffield Wednesday youngster Osaze Urhoghide beaming his way through a post-match interview after making his senior debut for the club against Brighton, but treat yourself to another watch. We need these reminders every now and then that football can be such a force for good in people's lives, and while many players will have just wanted to get this weekend out of the way, for one young man at least it will be one he'll never forget.