10 talking points from the weekend’s action

1) Ten Hag hopes to stop City’s treble tilt

For many minutes at Wembley and until Solly March’s tears, the credibility of Erik ten Hag’s regime was on the edge. In recent weeks, the idea that Manchester United had finally found the right manager has faded. Both Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho had short spells of success. Both have also won trophies. Ole Gunnar Solskjær also brought the smiles back for a while. Heavy defeats to Liverpool and Sevilla had hastened dark thoughts of a false dawn, but now Ten Hag has the chance to boost United’s footballing legacy. By June 3 and the FA Cup Final, Manchester City could be poised for a hat-trick to match United’s in 1999, the club’s greatest ever achievement. To deny City and pull off such a heist, United will need far more attacking power than against Brighton, although the grit displayed by less famous names such as Victor Lindelöf, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Diogo Dalot and even Antony will be welcome. John Brewin

2) The Wembley semi-final attracts painful numbers

Manchester City against Sheffield United didn’t look like an FA Cup semi-final. In fact it didn’t look like anything at all, despite Riyad Mahrez’s well-crafted hat-trick. It didn’t help that City’s all-encompassing dominance meant the result was more or less a foregone conclusion. Nor was it a resounding endorsement of the deal that the Blades would trade their Wembley appearance for the three points that would guarantee promotion against West Brom on Wednesday. Neither set of fans seemed particularly interested in the occasion and the number of empty seats between both allocations was substantial. Which brings us to perhaps the most devaluing factor of all: the idea that, in a cost-of-living crisis, tens of thousands of fans in these northern cities should be forced to pay top dollar for a night game at several hours away. A venue closer to home would have pumped, despite the game’s probable lack of danger. Instead we were subjected to an occasion devoid of anything resembling the spirit of the Cup. Nick Ames

Empty seats in the background during Manchester City v Sheffield United

Manchester City’s official attendance against Sheffield United was 69,602, well below Wembley’s capacity of 90,000. Photography: Javier Garcia/Shutterstock

3) Was Conte right about the Spurs players?

He may have burned through much of his managerial cachet at Tottenham, but Antonio Conte’s tirade after last month’s 3-3 draw with Southampton rings truer with each passing week. “I see selfish players, players who don’t want to help each other and don’t put their hearts into it [into it]”, he said after that particular collapse. “They don’t want to play under pressure, they don’t want to play under stress.” Even those who thought Conte was making a cynical attempt to absolve responsibility would have to admit that, after falling apart just a minute into a crucial game against Newcastle, the team lacked the focus, cohesion and hunger of their opponents. and they’ve shown little sign of fighting for each other. While fans are directing their anger towards the club’s hierarchy, the players will need to salvage some pride in tough matches against Manchester United and Liverpool or it could be a truly heartbreaking end to season. Will Magee

Harry Kane returns to the halfway line in dejected fashion

Tottenham were beaten in Newcastle thanks to a poor performance. Photography: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

4) Arteta has to solve the Saliba problem

“If we want to be champions we have to go there and win the game, that’s all.” Gabriel Jesus put him into play for Arsenal after what was, despite all their rousing efforts in the end, a hugely damaging draw against Southampton. They’ll have to do it the hard way now and that means picking up three points on Wednesday against a Manchester City side who show little sign of abandoning the sort of defensive blunder that has helped Arsenal’s opponents on their way over the past two weeks. Mikel Arteta will be praying that his players have eliminated those errors from their system but, beyond that, he will have to come up with something to throw City off pace. Without William Saliba, Arsenal lose something in defense but also in the construction of the game: they are slower in possession and the problem widens in midfield. Perhaps the Frenchman will make a miraculous comeback but, if he’s not fit enough to bet on, Arteta must find a way to get his side back on track quickly. Could a temporary return to the center for Ben White be a possible solution? N/A

5) Consistency key to Liverpool’s push

“Let’s hope it’s not too late,” reflected Jürgen Klopp as he praised the counter-pressure quality and cohesiveness that took Liverpool to a second successive victory over a relegation-threatened opponent. His side have won six consecutive league games this season, but have only extended their streak further once, recording four straight league wins either side of the World Cup interruption. With Tottenham and Aston Villa among the four home games remaining, and Klopp’s attacking options improved by Diogo Jota rediscovering his finishing touch and the availability of Luis Díaz, European qualification of some form remains to be determined by Liverpool. But, first, some overdue consistency. “Let’s just focus on West Ham [on Wednesday]”, said Virgil van Dijk, rightfully refusing to get carried away. “After everything we’ve been through this season, this is the key. It’s been a very difficult season so far.” Andy Cacciatore

6) Leeds are stuck in the post-Bielsa crisis

Javi Gracia was not targeted by Leeds fans as their side collapsed in a damaging defeat to Fulham. Not even his players. There was no shortage of effort on display. Leeds played hard and came up against a Fulham side nothing like the soft touch of previous promoted sides. Instead, Victor Orta was the name that resonated with him. Orta is the sporting director who tempted Marcelo Bielsa to West Yorkshire but also sacked the saintly ex-coach, whose name was chanted amid calls to ‘fire the board’. Although Bielsa’s alchemy had stopped working in February last year, it is the failure of Orta’s succession plan and owner Andrea Radrizzani that infuriates Leeds fans. Jesse Marsch was a failure; Gracia must pick up the pieces of a team lacking quality and trust. Illan Meslier’s goalkeeping mistakes have grabbed the headlines, but his lack of courage speaks to a disgruntled club within. j

7) Soyuncu is reborn while Smith steels Foxes

Who is this ponytailed centre-back at the heart of the Leicester defence? Caglar Soyuncu was left out by Brendan Rodgers but started both of Leicester’s games since Dean Smith took over until the end of the season. Soyuncu was excellent in Saturday’s vital victory over Wolves, making a couple of key blocks as Leicester savored victory for the first time since February. Rodgers felt Soyuncu’s performances in training often didn’t merit inclusion in his squads, let alone his starting lineups, but the Turkey defender was reinstated by Smith and helped breathe new life into Turkey’s struggling season. Leicester. “I don’t know what happened before I got here,” Smith said. “I’ve seen a player who is committed to the club, he trains very well and I think his performances have shown that.” Ben Fisher

8) Moyes deserves to go out with a bang

West Ham’s rampant win at Bournemouth resulted in 10 goals in a week for David Moyes, who started the month one game away from being sacked. Whether recent performances will be enough to convince the West Ham hierarchy to stick with the Scotsman seems unlikely, but he could still retire with a trip to Prague for the Europa Conference League final if AZ Alkmaar are sent off next month. Few would complain about a proud exit for the manager who took West Ham to sixth place and a record points total after an unexpected return in 2019 which has been described – rightly – in these pages as “not an inspiring fixture”. disappointed fans.” Moyes has always been known as a respectable man, but his second spell in east London helped restore his reputation as the shrewd training ground manager who instills grit, wit and tenacity into his teams. Almost all managerial stints end in hard feelings; this could end up with a hard earned high. Alex Hesse

9) Villa shows grit at the end of the purple patch

Aston Villa’s Champions League ascent may well be over, but the determined qualities that have relaunched the club have been on display in their comeback at Brentford. Ollie Watkins failed to score for his first away game since 21 January, losing to Ivan Toney in Battle of Britain hopes. It was left to Douglas Luiz to stab the late equalizer, redeeming a performance Unai Emery described as “very, very bad” in the spells. An unbeaten run of over two months was eventually extended despite Emiliano Martínez’s defeat to a stomach ache at half-time. His replacement Robin Olsen was exposed at the back post for Toney’s goal and is clearly suffering from a lack of confidence from his defenders. It is hoped Martínez will be able to return for the Fulham visit on Tuesday, but despite his exit and Watkins’ void, Villa have still managed to extract a result from a match that might previously have eluded them. JB extension

Unai Emery gestures from the touchline

Unai Emery ran away from Brentford with a point despite what Unai Emery described as a “very, very bad” performance in the spells. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

10) Calvert-Lewin returns for the run-in of Toffees

Sean Dyche has insisted Everton are not pinning their survival hopes on the fitness of Dominic Calvert-Lewin after the 26-year-old made it through his last comeback from injury against Crystal Palace. Calvert-Lewin has scored just one of his side’s meager 24 goals so far this season – the lowest in the Premier League – but he’s been showing signs of his bounds at Selhurst Park. Dyche hopes the striker can find a little more clarity in time for Newcastle’s trip to Goodison Park on Thursday ahead of next Monday’s big showdown in Leicester, although he admitted to coaxing more goals from the rest of his squad hungry for goals remains a work in progress. “I don’t have fairy dust,” said the Everton manager. “We have a way of working that can help change that, but it’s up to the players to take responsibility. It’s not just about one player. He’s also about the rest of the players coming forward.” Ed Aarons









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