Weekend Review: Sherwood and shocks
Our football team consider the key talking points from the weekend's action and look ahead to this week's Champions League second-legs.
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Wigan repeated last year's FA Cup final heroics by beating Manchester City on Sunday to set up a Wembley semi-final against Arsenal, who were fairly impressive in the second half against Everton on Saturday. How did you rate City's performance in defeat and what now for the rest of their season?
Matt Brocklebank: Sunday was not City's day as they had several chances that would have resulted in goals with a bit of luck, the ball trickling across the Wigan line on one occasion, but they have been a bit in-and-out since hammering Tottenham at White Hart Lane in January and it could be that they're struggling to cope with the pressure of challenging on all fronts. Skipper Vincent Kompany was an unused substitute and Martin Demichelis' performance left a lot to be desired again, but they should have had too much firepower for Championship side Wigan. Take nothing away from Uwe Rosler's team, who worked tirelessly and kept their heads when it mattered most, but City will need to get back in the free-scoring mode they were in at the start of the season if they are to overhaul Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table.
Dave Tickner: It was a sluggish, flat performance from City until the last 20 minutes. Wigan's opening goal from the latest Demichelis moment of wonder was fully deserved, and the hosts failed to muster a shot on target until they found themselves 2-0 down after more lacklustre defending. The whole performance just reeked of complacency, right down to Manuel Pellegrini's casual attire. The sight of a 60-year-old man in an MCFC hoodie was as incongruous as the state of the team's on-field performance. It's possible to read too much into these things, but for me City turning in such a slapdash performance with their manager dressed for a spot of Sunday DIY is no coincidence.
Ben Coley: City were delightfully awful and got exactly what they deserved. There's no question that they were complacent and to be honest this was coming, given that they played in pretty much exactly the same way in the preceding week's Capital One Cup final and had already escaped against both Blackburn and Watford earlier in the FA Cup. It's easy to overlook the fact that City needed two remarkable goals to turn the Sunderland game around and while they went close once or twice, ultimately they didn't look like creating many clear-cut chances against Wigan, either. But let's not underestimate how good Wigan were. Yes, City should still beat them regardless, but Uwe Rosler's side were better prepared, worked harder and executed their game-plan flawlessly. Arsenal beware.
Sheffield United's fantastic FA Cup run continued with a 2-0 victory over Charlton and the Sky Bet League 1 side now face Hull in the semi-finals at Wembley. Can they raise their game yet again and reach the final?
MB: Sheffield United and Nigel Clough progressing in the FA Cup has developed into a great story this season and they've gone about it in the right way. Their positivity will stand them in really good stead when facing Hull at Wembley and I wasn't madly impressed with Steve Bruce's side despite a convincing scoreline against Sunderland on Sunday. The Black Cats tired dramatically in the second half and Hull were a shade flattered in the end. The fact big January signings Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic are cup-tied leaves them light up front and Clough and his men will be confident they have what it takes to deal with Sone Aluko, Yannick Sagbo, Matty Fryatt and company next month.
DT: Can Nigel Clough do what Brian never did and win the FA Cup? Most probably not, but it's undeniably a great tale. Sunderland gave it the full Tottenham at the KC, gifting two of the three goals Hull scored in the second half. As with the Chelsea-Spurs game (more on which later), such generosity/incompetence makes it hard to gauge the true quality of the winning team. The Blades, though, are on a sensational run of wins and there's no reason for them to treat the Wembley semi-final as the proverbial Great Day Out.
BC: As Matt points out, Hull's most dangerous assets can't play in the semi-final and Steve Bruce's side for once must deal with the pressure of expectation. It's therefore far from impossible to see United springing a surprise of sorts and reaching the final and the fact that they're maybe just too far out of a League 1 play-off spot while being safely clear of relegation means that their focus on this game will be absolute. However, I'll be cheering on Hull after they were stuck up by colleague Andy Schooler at 100/1 in his outright FA Cup preview. Some shout and one win away from paying out.
Tim Sherwood's reaction to his side's 'capitulation' during the 4-0 defeat at Chelsea raised a few eyebrows on Saturday. Was it a refreshing change to hear a Premier League manager publicly demand more of his players, or does it leave Spurs in a worrying position for the remainder of the season?
MB: It's a tricky situation for Sherwood as he, and everybody else, knows that his position as manager was effectively a stop-gap solution following the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas earlier in the campaign. Everything looked rosy when his side were ticking along nicely well within reach of fourth place but things have gone awry and, in parallel with AVB, his Spurs have suffered a couple of heavy, and seemingly damaging, defeats. Everyone likes to hear a bit of honesty post-match but his comments are unlikely to fire up the players one bit and instead they could be lucky to end up finishing above Manchester United and Everton in the Premier League table.
DT: A bizarre game followed by a rant that was telling not for its content but its tone. Sherwood had a point when criticising a group of players who gave up the moment things turned against them at Stamford Bridge, but his criticism was not that of a man about to give them a rollocking for it, but of one who knows there is nothing he can do about it. He will not be Tottenham manager next season. We know it, he knows it, the players know it. The 18-month contract fools no-one and Spurs have created a situation where they have a manager with neither the experience nor authority to arrest a worrying decline in performance level. It was ludicrous when Sherwood received high praise for some flattering Adebayor-inspired victories and it's equally true of criticism after a game that was going pretty much to plan for Spurs until first Jan Vertonghen and then Samuel Eto'o fell over. But he is a lame duck manager. The nature of the goals Spurs conceded at Stamford Bridge was fitting: they have been their own worst enemies all season, their season scuppered by self-inflicted wounds.
BC: I felt a little sorry for Tim Sherwood because he seems like he's probably quite a nice man, who happens to work in a sport which can be not very nice at times. Football isn't alone here but to have a man in a job and everyone know he won't be next year but everyone pretend he will be next year is, well, less than ideal and it all came to a head on Sunday. Funnily enough, his reaction may mislead those who didn't watch the game as I actually felt Tottenham were doing very, very well until Vertonghen's moment of madness. Had that not happened, perhaps Chelsea wouldn't have won and perhaps Mourinho and not Sherwood would've been left to bemoan a lacklustre performance in an important game. Fine margins. Admittedly, Mourinho tends to get on the right side of such margins and it's that which helps explain his near flawless managerial career and Sherwood's already shambolic one.
After contrasting fortunes this weekend, what chance for Arsenal or Manchester City to overturn their daunting Champions League deficits this week?
MB: Arsenal will be hoping Bayern Munich become a little over-confident with their lead from the first game, as they appeared to do in the same competition when the Gunners came to town 12 months ago, but I don't see it happening on Pep Guardiola's watch. Barcelona suffered a weekend defeat at the hands of La Liga strugglers Real Valladolid so not everthing's A-ok in their camp. Perhaps Man City could ruffle a few feathers if getting on the scoresheet early on in Catalunya.
DT: Slim. Controversial, I know. City, perhaps, will have to try and draw inspiration from their own downfall against Wigan as well as Barcelona's stuttering form. If Pellegrini turns up appropriately attired and the stars align, maybe there could be a Nou Camp Miracle. Nah, not really. It's even harder to see Arsenal turning things round against Bayern. The German giants are steamrolling teams for fun this season and surely won't allow a repeat of last year's second-leg near-catastrophe against the Gunners. A painful midweek is on the cards for Arsenal, but after an FA Cup weekend that couldn't have gone better they are at least set to end that long-standing trophy drought. Surely. This time.
BC: Arsenal? None. City? None.