Ross Barkley’s difficult return, VAR inconsistency in the FA Cup, Nuno Espírito Santo impresses and James Maddison’s class
1) Barkley gets the Goodison pariah treatment
Ross Barkley would have known what kind of reception awaited him at Goodison Park: the type rained down on previous Everton escapees such as Wayne Rooney and Joleon Lescott. Goodison might not be much longer for this world, with the latest suggestion being a new stadium for 2023, but for now it retains old‑fashioned menace to those who have transgressed the Evertonian code. Barkley’s crime among the faithful is to have left Goodison on a cut-price transfer to Chelsea in the January transfer window of last year after running down his contract. As he left the field after being substituted in the 65th minute, he responded to the hail of jeers by applauding all sides of the stadium. To Barkley’s credit, he has made himself a regular under Maurizio Sarri but like so many other Chelsea players at Goodison – and this season – he is wasted by the Neapolitan’s rigid thinking.
2) Nuno’s Wolves go from strength to strength
Wolves fans have been singing “Nuno’s the Special One” for a while but their chant carried particular pertinence on Saturday, as their Portuguese manager helped their team to outclass Manchester United. The hosts were sharper and shrewder at Molineux, a well‑honed unit against an extravagant mishmash. Ole Gunnar Solskjær did not seem to know what to do. He waited too long to make changes even though several of his players looked off the pace, especially in midfield, where, when the going got tough, captain Paul Pogba went missing. Perform like this again and United will be ridiculed by Barcelona in the Champions League and fail to climb back into the Premier League’s top four. “Man United, in April and May, we always find our form,” said Solskjær, who is in tune with the club’s glorious past but needs to do more in the coming week to prove he deserves to remain as manager next season.
• Match report: Wolves 2-1 Manchester United
3) Brighton have to do it the hard way
Brighton would have cried foul if they had not reached the last four of the FA Cup at Millwall’s expense. Chris Hughton felt they should have had a penalty in the first half, argued that Alex Pearce’s opener for Millwall should have been ruled out and was aggrieved when Jürgen Locadia had a goal disallowed for an incorrect offside decision against Martín Montoya in the final minute of extra time. VAR would probably have come to Brighton’s aid on all three occasions but the technology is not being used at grounds not in the Premier League. “It’s not fair,” Hughton said. “If I’m a team that benefited from it in one game, then I don’t think it’s fair on the teams that don’t benefit from it.” Brighton advanced after winning on penalties but the inconsistency worked against Swansea in their defeat by Manchester City.
• Match report: Millwall 2-2 Brighton (Brighton win 5-4 on pens)
4) Swansea’s James attracting admirers
Pep Guardiola chuckled and raised his eyebrows as he described the speed with which the Swansea winger Daniel James soared away from Nicolás Otamendi. The 21‑year‑old’s 80-yard dance downfield against Brentford sparked Swansea to victory in the fifth round and, against Manchester City, the Wales international again relished centre stage, only this time the defenders he reduced to all fours were Premier League champions. The Championship side eventually wilted but they have laid down a marker for the rest of the season. “When I first came here, David Silva told me that at Swansea they always play good, and that this team always want to play. And we saw that.” As for James, who was set to join Leeds in January for a fee rising to £10m only for Swansea to pull the plug at the 11th hour, eye-catching performances such as these could start a bidding war.
• Match report: Swansea 2-3 Manchester City
5) Maddison excels in unfamiliar role
Brendan Rodgers has not yet been at Leicester for three weeks but suffice to say he was not surprised when James Maddison struck with an inch-perfect free-kick. The manager recalled events on the training ground on Friday. “He had four free-kicks like that in succession where he bent it into the top corner. Top-level players can do that, find the top corner. That’s his strength, his technique, whether it’s a through-pass to Jamie Vardy or a free-kick. It’s not by accident.” If Maddison’s efforts were all the more admirable as illness kept him up on Friday night, he also showed his adaptability. Gareth Southgate cited the fact England do not use a No 10 to explain Maddison’s omission from his squad, but neither did Leicester in the rejig after Harry Maguire’s fourth-minute red card. Maddison excelled at finding space when cutting infield from a new role on the left.
• Match report: Burnley 1-2 Leicester City
6) McDonald lets rip at Ranieri
The phrase “refreshingly honest interview” is normally a long way from being accurate when it comes to the musings of a player in the matchday programme. Fulham – and more specifically, the midfielder Kevin McDonald – bucked the trend here. McDonald was no fan of Claudio Ranieri, the club’s former manager, who froze him out, but what about this? “His style of play didn’t suit the players he had,” McDonald said. “We were all a bit confused about what he wanted. The players were going out sometimes not really sure what they were meant to be doing. We were kind of winging it.” McDonald said Ranieri gave him “no reason” for the way he treated him. “Maybe he didn’t like me as a person.” Fulham endured a third defeat in three under Scott Parker against Liverpool but for McDonald – and others – the feeling is at least more positive.
• Match report: Fulham 1-2 Liverpool
7) Hernández turns the game for West Ham
The joys of Javier Hernández have been well documented over the years; he can score goals inside the 18-yard box and little else. Some managers have become frustrated with his limitations, meaning he struggled to be a regular at Manchester United and now West Ham. Considering set-pieces are West Ham’s most consistent method of scoring, it is quite useful to have the man with the quickest reactions in the capital sniffing around the area whenever the ball is lobbed into it. Not only did he score two vital goals in typical fashion, taking his tally to 52 in the Premier League (all from inside the box), but his energy in the final third changed the dynamic of the game for the hosts who struggled to get going against Huddersfield. Now it is up to his manager and teammates to give him the opportunities to become a focal point.
• Match report: West Ham 4-3 Huddersfield
8) Everton take advantage of Wenger-esque Chelsea
Everton were as poor in the first half at Goodison as Chelsea were in the second. “We were lucky to get off at 0-0 at half time to be honest,” Séamus Coleman admitted. “It was poor from us in the first half,” Gylfi Sigurdsson agreed. “The second half was completely different and it needed to be. We started to win a lot more second balls.” The secret for Everton was simply upping the intensity once they stopped admiring Chelsea and realised they were there for the taking. How Maurizio Sarri can produce the same effect in his players is much more difficult to work out. Chelsea were unable to gain any advantage from having the best player on the field in Eden Hazard, or the most fluent runner in Pedro. Instead of overtaking Arsenal, Sarri’s side now seem to be turning into them, or at least they resemble a late-Wenger version: attractive to watch but too easily pushed aside.
• Match report: Everton 2-0 Chelsea
9) Modest Gracia enjoys the moment
Javi Gracia’s growing reputation as a manager was underlined in this victory against Crystal Palace. As well as making shrewd decisions, such as the one to introduce Andre Gray from the bench to allow the striker’s winning goal with virtually his first touch, the Spaniard has assembled a talented and hard‑working group of players who could yet go all the way in this year’s competition. The meeting with Wolves will be Watford’s seventh FA Cup semi-final and, having failed to reach the final every time apart from in 1984 under Graham Taylor, Gracia was typically modest in his assessment of their chances. “It’s something special, it’s something different,” Gracia said. “We will enjoy the semi-final. I think in this moment all the supporters will be very proud of our players and it’s a good moment for us.”
• Match report: Watford 2-1 Crystal Palace
10) Late goals show resilience of Benítez’s boys
Rafa Benítez has moulded his Newcastle side into one of the most committed and resilient in the league. This team cannot compete with that of the Kevin Keegan era for style but the fans do not mind: they hold their manager in enormously high regard for creating a side which has lost only twice in their past eight games, despite the lack of investment. The attitude was proved in their comeback win against Everton and then reinforced on Saturday when they scored a goal in injury-time in both halves. The first arrived thanks to a counterattack from a corner when many other teams would have been happy just to clear the ball at that stage. Instead Newcastle fought to get down the other end and earned a free-kick which Salomón Rondón curled into the top corner. Matt Ritchie smashed in the second to equalise moments before the final whistle, a testament to the battling qualities that will keep them up.
• Match report: Bournemouth 2-2 Newcastle United