Friday, January 27, 2023

Premier League On Hold As Cups Runneth Over

The Premier League is on pause this week as domestic cups dominate the English footballing landscape. The Carabao (EFL) Cup saw the first leg of its semifinal matchups midweek. There were no surprises as Manchester United and Newcastle seem to be hurtling towards the final with both fan bases anxious to secure the silverware.

It’s been a longer wait for Newcastle as the Magpies’ last domestic cup championship was in 1955 with no other major trophy being brought home to Tyneside since 1969. Manager Eddie Howe has raised hopes for the Toon Army by leading the club into the Premier League top four this season and landing in the semifinals of the Carabao Cup. The success has been based on solid defense with Howe’s men registering yet another clean sheet in a 1-0 win over Southampton Tuesday. Joelinton scored the winner in the 73rd minute for Newcastle with the second leg scheduled next week at St James Park.

It’s been five years since Jose Mourinho delivered the last trophies at Manchester United. The Red Devils won the Carabao Cup, then unsponsored as the EFL Cup, in 2017. Mourinho led the club to the Europa League title that same year. Current manager Eric ten Hag is trying to get the historic club back to its trophy winning ways and took another step in that direction with the Red Devils’ convincing 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest Wednesday. Marcus Rashford scored for the tenth time in his last ten appearances and recent transfer signing Wout Weghorst scored his first goal for the club before Bruno Fernandes concluded the fun with a late goal. The action shifts to Old Trafford for the second leg next week.

The FA Cup now takes over the weekend with a tantalizing Friday match leading the schedule. Premier League leader Arsenal travels to the Etihad to face its closest league pursuer and defending league champion Manchester City. Arsenal Manager Mikel Arteta faces former mentor Pep Guardiola in a classic match between the Premier League’s top two clubs, each of which plays an entertaining form of football attractive to neutrals and supporters alike. While Arsenal has a five point lead in the league table, the Gunners’ depth isn’t comparable to the Citizens and Arteta will need to decide if he rotates his squad against the league rival. Guardiola, on the other hand, can choose names out of a hat and still field an all-star lineup. So strong is the City roster that Guardiola had no problem in selling Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko to the rival Gunners last summer. Jesus is injured but Zinchenko could feature against his old club.

The FA Cup’s fourth round features one other clash of Premier League sides as Liverpool visits Brighton on Sunday. Liverpool was thrashed by the Seagulls 3-0 in league play just two weeks ago at Amex Stadium.  There’s thus a revenge factor in play but Brighton is legitimately and consistently playing far better this season under new manager Roberto De Zerbi than Liverpool is under Jurgen Klopp. The Liverpool manager found it necessary to apologize to traveling fans after the league debacle at Brighton.

Numerous other Premier League sides are in FA Cup action against lower division sides over the course of the weekend. The most notable of remaining matches, however, could be that of former Premier League side Sheffield United which visits non-league Wrexham. The small Welsh club was purchased two years ago by Hollywood celebrities Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny who are featuring their ownership journey in a currently airing television documentary.

The Premier League schedule will resume next week when Everton may, or may not have a new manger in place. Sean Dyche is the reputed new frontrunner as Marcelo Bielsa is reportedly no longer in contention. Whoever might be considering the job might want to defer their start date. The 19th place Toffees are scheduled to host league leading Arsenal next Saturday in front of the opinioned Goodison Park crowd.    

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