Man United's crazy FA Cup win, how Barcelona thrashed Atletico and more

Another weekend has come and gone, but there’s a lot of wonderful drama across Europe’s top leagues to reflect upon. The FA Cup quarterfinal between Man United and Liverpool was pure “magic of the Cup” as United ran out 4-3 winners. Barcelona, meanwhile, shrugged off a slew of injuries and poor performances to decimate Atletico Madrid at their formidable Wanda Metropolitano stadium, winning 3-0 in a game that also saw manager Xavi sent off. Oh, and Harry Kane scored again as Bayern Munich wrapped up another comfortable victory.

Man City didn’t have to work too hard to brush past Newcastle in their FA Cup clash, Vinicius showed his best and worst in a big win for Real Madrid, and there were talking points galore for Inter, Christian Pulisic, Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain.

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It’s Monday. Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.

360364Man United, Liverpool serve up a doozy in classic FA Cup style… but where does this leave them?

Score this one for the “magic of the Cup” brigade. Manchester United’s 4-3 win over Liverpool in the FA Cup quarterfinal won’t score high in terms of quality — individual or collective — but as a spectacle for the neutral, it was something special. Four lead changes, a missed opportunity to win it at the end of regular time and an injury time winner in extra time. Plus, plenty of drama.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon (or morning or night depending on where you are in the world).

Jurgen Klopp evidently didn’t take it well, as evidenced by his clash with the poor Scandinavian TV reporter who asked him about Liverpool’s drop in intensity in extra time. You don’t condone his reaction — and I wouldn’t be surprised if he apologised, quietly, after the fact — but you understand his frustration. Liverpool weren’t great, but they did more than enough in the second half to put the game to bed. Instead, they gave up that wonky Antony goal that made it 2-2 and probably should have been beaten by that late, late Marcus Rashford chance. (We’ll never know if he was onside — he certainly looked it — but that’s hardly the point.)

And then, having taken the lead in extra time, Liverpool somehow contrived to throw it all away, against a Manchester United side that ended the game with one central defender (and it was Harry Maguire, no less), one fullback (Diogo Dalot) and four wingers (Antony, Rashford, Alejandro Garnacho and Amad Diallo). Oh, and of the midfielders left on the pitch, one could hardly walk and was basically playing sweeper (Bruno Fernandes), one plays with a pacemaker (Christian Eriksen), one was playing for the first time after a four-month injury (Mason Mount) and the other is Scott McTominay.

Liverpool have a lot of injuries too, but to get beaten by that bunch hurts. And yet, it was deserved because if you don’t take your chances and instead gift the opposition chances, you deserve to lose. That’s football.

The good news, from Liverpool’s perspective, is that this was a weird cluster mess of a game marked by so many imponderables. You can chalk this up to a combination of fate and the sort of mistakes that are easy fixes — especially when, one by one, your injured guys are coming back.



Hislop: Liverpool have only themselves to blame for FA Cup exit

Shaka Hislop reacts to Liverpool’s 4-3 loss to Manchester United in the FA Cup quarterfinals.

As for United, in some ways the fact that this game comes just before the international break is a major negative for Erik Ten Hag, because coaches love talking about momentum and positive energy. But then, even when United play poorly (and there have been plenty of times this has happened in 2023-24), rarely have they lacked cohesiveness and belief (mind you, given the racket Old Trafford made, it was hard not to be lifted, even for a neutral watching at home).

Ten Hag showed again that he’s not dogmatic and that when the situation calls, he’s willing to throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks. In this case, it was flipping the fullbacks, putting Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the left to deal with Mohamed Salah. And, of course, ripping up whatever game plan he had by throwing on whatever he found on his bench late in the match, since he had nothing to lose. (It seems like an obvious thing to do, but you’d be surprised how many coaches don’t do it, such as Eddie Howe at the Etihad on Saturday.) Rashford, despite the missed goal, played well and showed the sort of leadership that was missing earlier this season.

If United somehow make a run into the Champions League spots between now and the end of the season, you’d imagine Rashford will be a big part of it. Most of all, Ten Hag let the adrenaline run wild and was rewarded for it.

106883IInjury-riddled Barcelona win big at Atletico’s supposedly impregnable home

We won’t be hearing about the fortress Civitas Metropolitano for a while — not after Barcelona’s resounding 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid that sees them stay within eight points of league-leading Real Madrid.

It’s worth reminding ourselves what condition Barcelona was in when they took the pitch. No Gavi, no Pedri, no Frenkie de Jong in midfield. No Andreas Christensen, the recycled defender, either. At the back, two 17-year-olds, Hector Fort and Pau Cubarsí — all this against an Atleti side buzzing after knocking out Inter on penalties in midweek.

To be fair, Atleti were squarely in control for the first half-hour or so, and Marc-André ter Stegen reminded us just why he’s among the very best in the world — that save to deny Marcos Llorente was special. But then the gremlins appeared in the Atleti defence and João Félix (why always him?) was gifted a goal. It shifted the momentum, sure, but not immediately, which is why Xavi got himself sent off despite the 1-0 lead. (Someone said during the live commentary that it’s his 24th yellow card since becoming manager; I refuse to believe it’s true.)

But quality is quality and goals from Robert Lewandowski and Fermín López put this one to bed after the break.

Atleti without Antoine Griezmann and Koke from the start are simply not the same thing. And Barcelona’s combination of young — you can throw in Lopez and Marc Casadó, both 20, and substitute Lamine Yamal, still 16, as well — and old (Lewandowski, Ilkay Gündogan) saw out the game with confidence and quality.

Barcelona’s season could be over in five weeks, after the Champions League reunion with Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals and their trip to the Bernabeu for LaLiga’s second Clasico of the season. Or it could be reenergized, against all odds. There’s a story to be written there, either way.

As for Atleti, call this a big reality check. And with Athletic Club now ahead of them in the table, it’s something Diego Simeone needs to get at under the hood and fix.

132Bayern bandwagon rolls on as Musiala gets freedom to steal the show and Kane sets stupid record

It’s now three wins on the spin for Bayern in which they’ve scored a total of 16 goals, but before anyone gets too excited, the victories came at home against a Lazio side who then sacked their manager and then a pair of relegation-threatened teams (Mainz and Darmstadt). Still, at least we have a settled lineup and at least Thomas Tuchel is letting the kids — namely Aleksandar Pavlovic and Jamal Musiala — shine.

This weekend, Musiala scored a highlight-reel worthy goal and contributed to another two in the 5-2 road drubbing of Darmstadt. The young midfielder once again lined up wide on the left, but he was given plenty of licence to roam and, indeed, his average position was basically that of a No.10. Surely that’s where his future lies, maybe once Thomas Müller is ready to exit stage left.

Defensively, we saw the usual wobbles on the first goal, and it was disappointing to concede a second in garbage time. It’s interesting that with both Kim Min-Jae and Dayot Upamecano on the bench, Tuchel persists with Eric Dier, almost as if he’s sending some kind of message to the folks upstairs (you know, the ones who are parting ways with him?).

Harry Kane also got on the scoresheet, and with all the attention on his pursuit of Robert Lewandowski’s 41-goal single-season mark — Kane has 31, with eight games to go — it feels as if the marketing people are falling over themselves to create new records for him to break.

The latest is news that Kane’s 31 goals are the most ever by a player in his first Bundesliga season — sort of like a “Rookie of the Year” type thing. Except Kane is 30, he had 213 Premier League goals to his name when he arrived last summer and he’s anything but a rookie. This is the sort of record that might have had some meaning back in the day, but is silly today.

Kane doesn’t need these off-brand history-making moments to make his achievements worthy of celebration.

363Chelsea advance in wild FA Cup win as Pochettino gets hammered and asks fans to “trust the club”



Marcotti rants on Pochettino’s call for Chelsea fans to ‘trust the club’

Gab Marcotti explains why Mauricio Pochettino was wrong to tell Chelsea fans to “trust the club” after advancing to the FA Cup semifinals.

Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Leicester City on Sunday sees them advance to the FA Cup semifinals, where they’ll take on Manchester City. And yet, the nature of the victory prompted jeering and abuse towards coach Mauricio Pochettino, leading him to ask supporters to “trust the club.”

It’s sort of ironic because games like this — where you race out to a 2-0 lead, which should have been 3-0 if Raheem Sterling had converted his penalty, and then find yourself at 2-2 against 10 men at home with 15 minutes to go — are exactly how trust is destroyed. A Cole Palmer back-heel in injury time set up Carney Chukwuemeka’s winner before Noni Madueke added another to make it 4-2, but the vibe at the end was relief, not joy.

Pochettino said he didn’t expect the fans to “trust” him or the players, but rather “trust the club,” because it’s the club who put him there and acquired most of these players. I’m not sure how much this is going to resonate with anyone. I’m sure he’s noticed, but Chelsea — despite their vast spending — are currently outside the top 10 in the Premier League, just like they finished outside the top 10 last season (which, surely a coincidence, is when the club changed hands to Todd Boehly and the Clearlake crew). That’s not good, considering this is a club that finished lower than sixth just once since 1996 before Clearlake took over.

Rather than telling supporters who they should trust, Pochettino should maybe spend a little more time thinking about how he’s going to eradicate collapses like the one that nearly cost them the game at home, against a Championship side missing several regulars, no less.

86Vinicius impresses (and gets in trouble) as Real Madrid roll on even without Bellingham



What made Vinicius Junior ‘unplayable’ vs. Osasuna

Alex Kirkland and Ale Moreno reflect on a superb two-goal performance for Vinicius Junior in Real Madrid’s win over Osasuna.

Real Madrid have rebounded nicely after the stinker against RB Leipzig and they’ve done it without Jude Bellingham, serving a two-match ban for that postgame red card against Valencia.

After the 4-0 win against Celta Vigo came a 4-2 road win against Osasuna that was more one-sided than the score suggests, and it speaks to Ancelotti’s flexibility and the fact that nobody is indispensable. Without Bellingham, he turned to a sort of 4-2-2-2 formation, with Fede Valverde and Brahim Díaz behind Rodrgyo and Vinicius, and it created all sorts of problems for Osasuna.

Vinicius bagged two goals to take his season total to 18, but again, he picked up a needless booking. After the shoves on opponents against Leipzig and Celta, it was laughing and mocking the referee after a penalty appeal was ignored. This yellow card means he’ll be suspended for the next game.

We’ve said it before: he’s not helping himself and he’s not helping his team. Yeah, he gets a ton of abuse from fans and yes, he gets targeted by opponents. But responding by laughing at the referee — or reacting the way he did with Willi Orbán and Óscar Mingueza — is something he needs to get under control.

A final word on Arda Güler and his shot from the halfway line that hit the woodwork. He’s only 19, the club are bringing him along slowly — he has yet to start a game in LaLiga — he doesn’t seem to have a natural position yet on the pitch and it hasn’t been the smoothest of transitions to life in Spain. But if he keeps showing confidence and quality like this, you’ll see him much more of him real soon.

382Man City’s bare minimum is more than enough to stop conservative Newcastle



Burley: Newcastle didn’t lay a glove on Man City

Craig Burley and Shaka Hislop react to Manchester City’s comfortable FA Cup quarterfinal win over Newcastle.

OK, Manchester City are probably the best team in the world and Newcastle have a poor record at the Etihad, so it’s fair to grade against a curve, but Eddie Howe’s decision to raise the barricades with a back three we rarely see from him backfired badly.

Stick a lot of bodies in the box in front of your keeper and you run the risk of shots deflecting off them and into the back of the net … which is what happened with Bernardo Silva’s two shots that turned into goals as City walked out 2-0 winners.

City were patient and picked their spots rather than being dominant, which, like we said, was always going to be tough against this Newcastle set up. But they don’t need to be dominant, not when they went 2-0 up after half an hour and, still, the opposition managed only two shots on goal (for an xG of 0.17) the entire game.

It seemed as if Newcastle were playing a two-legged cup tie and were 4-0 up from the first leg. You don’t get points for keeping the score close.

110Inter Milan held by Napoli, but game overshadowed by spat between Acerbi, Juan Jesus

It was probably a hangover from their traumatic Champions League elimination at the hands of Atletico Madrid in midweek, but Inter were held to a 1-1 draw by Napoli. (Don’t worry, they’ll still win the Serie A title.)

However, dominating the headlines was what happened between Inter’s Francesco Acerbi and Napoli’s Juan Jesus. The pair tussled repeatedly on a set piece and afterwards, Jesus went to the referee and reportedly said Acerbi used racist language. The referee spoke to both players, they appeared to make up and the game continued.

After the match, Jesus said he had a lot of respect for Acerbi, but that what he said was not right, which is why he told the ref. He later added that “what happens on the pitch, stays on the pitch.”

We haven’t heard yet from the referee, Federico La Penna (who presumably didn’t hear the abuse, otherwise he would have been compelled to send off Acerbi), and we have not yet heard from Acerbi, who could still face a ban depending on what ends up in the referee’s report. It seems obvious that his version of events is going to be very relevant here.

Barring some kind of major miscommunication, Jesus is the victim here and can obviously handle this any way he likes, but the “what happens on the pitch, stays on the pitch” code is a dangerous policy: not every player is going to be comfortable with that. And the last thing you want is to create an environment where, because of this supposed code, victims of racist abuse are reluctant to come forward.

367Horrid Tottenham performance makes you wonder if the “Spursy” days are back



Leboeuf surprised by Tottenham’s poor performance vs. Fulham

Frank Leboeuf breaks down everything that went wrong for Tottenham in their 3-0 loss to Fulham.

I was struck by Son Heung-Min’s words after Tottenham’s 3-0 defeat at Fulham. He called it “two steps backwards,” “unacceptable” and added, “We are representing Premier League teams, we are representing Tottenham.”

Over the top? Maybe a tiny bit, but not far off.

Tottenham turned in what was probably their worst performance of the season and the fact that it came after the 4-0 win over Aston Villa (and with a chance to leapfrog them into fourth, at least for 24 hours) made it all the more shocking. The evident takeaway is that Ange Postecoglou’s system — if played without intensity, courage and intelligence — will make you look especially bad.

What no Tottenham fan wants to see is the sort of meltdown that earned them the “Spursy” moniker to begin with.

111Juventus slide continues as Vlahovic and Allegri let them down… badly

Remember how I’d said that Juve, despite dropping points, had played reasonably well of late? Well, the scoreless home draw against Genoa brought chickens home to roost.

Juventus have just seven points from eight games (a relegation-worthy pace) and have slipped into third place. And because coach Max Allegri lives by results (and results only), he suffers by them as well.

It’s unfair in some ways because although Juventus were horrendous in the first half (especially Dusan Vlahovic and Federico Chiesa), they played reasonably well after the hour mark, when Adrien Rabiot and the youngsters Kenan Yildiz and Samuel Iling-Junior came on. But, of course, Allegri has defined himself only by results and the here and now, and that mindset denies him the alibi of growth and performance (even though that’s what Juve should be focusing on).

Instead, we got the “bundle of nerves” routine. Vlahovic threw a hissy fit in injury time and got himself sent off, which means another suspension beckons. And Allegri got into a spat with a journalist who had the temerity of asking him why he doesn’t play a front three, with Iling-Junior or Yildiz joining Vlahovic and Chiesa in attack.

“You do your job and I’ll do mine,” Allegri said. “I don’t know how to be a journalist and you don’t know how to be a coach.”

The man is 56 years old. You expect a bit more maturity than that.

131Schick takes his Europa League heroics into Bundesliga and Leverkusen win again

I’m a Patrik Schick fan, especially after everything he’s been through, and after what he’s done in the past few weeks, I’m guessing his manager, Xabi Alonso, is too.

Against Qarabag, in the first leg of the Europa League round of 16, Schick scored the injury-time equalizer. In the return leg, he did even better: Leverkusen were down 2-1 and Schick scored the equaliser and the winner, both in injury time. On Sunday away to Freiburg, he scored the goal that put Leverkusen up 3-1 with a delightful touch.

Schick was injured at the start of the season and Victor Boniface ran rampant up front in his absence. Yet Boniface has been sidelined since December and without him, Schick has shared centre-forward duties with Borja Iglesias, who arrived in January. He has an unusual skill set for a central striker and that — plus his injuries and occasional inconsistency — is possibly why Leverkusen didn’t want to put all their eggs into his basket. But given his contributions of late, it’s safe to assume they’re glad he’s around.

160Mbappe returns with armband and hat trick in 6-2 drubbing of Montpellier

After his recent “time out” in Ligue 1 play, Kylian Mbappé returned with a bang, captaining the side in Marquinhos’ absence and bagging three goals in Paris Saint-Germain’s 6-2 victory over Montpellier on Sunday. (His long-range effort was particularly stunning and not a typical “Mbappe goal,” if there is such a thing.)

Let it be a reminder that PSG can turn it on when it matters and, if anything, they’re a better side in games like this where Mbappe is involved, but not central to proceedings.

Don’t let the sloppy first half (it was 2-2 at the break) fool you, either. The way they have played of late in Ligue 1, you could have seen them fizzle and play for a share of the spoils (heck, their lead at the top is enormous anyway). Instead, they came together and roared back, which can only be a good thing for Luis Enrique.

103Pulisic fires Milan to 3-1 road win in what is probably his finest season yet

Christian Pulisic is not — and may never be, not unless Mike Maignan, Rafael Leão and Theo Hernández leave and are replaced by three video game regens — Milan’s best player, but he might well be their most reliable player. He showed it again away to Verona this weekend, scoring a goal and hitting the woodwork, sure, but also busting his backside defensively and pressing with the sort of work rate and intelligence coaches crave.

Two factors help him here. One is that he’s injury-free; the other is that he’s not the main option. (Milan play with a genuine centre-forward — usually Olivier Giroud, though against Verona it was Noah Okafor — and most of their play develops on the opposite flank where Leao and Hernandez operate.)

This is probably his best season to date and regardless of whether Stefano Pioli sticks around as manager in the summer — he really should, especially with Milan second and in the Europa League quarterfinals, but this is a strange industry — you’d imagine he’ll play an even bigger part next year.

124Dortmund gut out win over Eintracht and in their case, it’s better than winning pretty

Given that right now, Borussia Dortmund are a bundle of nerves with a unique capacity for self-destruction — they showed it against PSV in the Champions League in that second half — how they beat Eintracht Frankfurt this weekend is as significant as the fact that they won 3-1 to stay fourth, one point ahead of Leipzig.

In this case, that meant getting back into the game after gifting (thank you, Nico Schlotterbeck) an early goal to the opposition and then not panicking in what turned into a physical, edgy game of the sort that has seen Dortmund fall apart in the past. Instead, they kept their heads and let their superior quality show, which eventually it did, culminating in a Mats Hummels header that gave them the lead in the 81st minute, with Emre Can adding a penalty in injury time.

This sort of confidence and discipline is what Edin Terzic has been trying to build, with decidedly mixed success.

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