Sport Writer Jake Bradshaw reviews the FA Cup Quarter-Finals and looks forward to the Semis coming up at Wembley
An all-Premier League semi-final round awaits us in the FA cup, following the quarter-final ties on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th March.
On Saturday, Tottenham were looking for a dominant performance against Swansea without the talismanic Harry Kane, who is out with an ankle injury. Up stepped goalscorers Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela, combining with Heung-Min Son and Lucas Moura to create an attacking threat that Swansea could not live with, despite their revival under Carlos Carvalhal.
Spurs struck early, with a driving run and beautiful finish into the top corner of the Swansea net from the edge of the box in the 11th minute by Eriksen. Another Eriksen strike destined for the top corner was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Swansea keeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt, and VAR was once more called into question, after ruling out a thumping strike by Son for offside, when it seemed the Spurs forward was pretty much level. Spurs’ dominance told however, and in added time of the first half, Lamela produced a neat finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the area. A comeback may have been on the cards, but former Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm produced a stunning double-save to keep out Martin Olsson and Tammy Abraham, and shortly afterwards a nicely worked opportunity fell to Eriksen, who’s shot from outside the box was too powerful for Nordfeldt, ensuring a comfortable Spurs victory.
The other match on Saturday saw Manchester United host Brighton. After exiting the Champions League in midweek, like Spurs, United were looking to bounce back by progressing into the semi-finals of the FA cup. In response to a poor performance against Sevilla, Jose Mourinho decided to make 5 changes, including dropping Alexis Sanchez to the bench to sit alongside the out-of-favour Paul Pogba.
This made little difference, however, with Romelu Lukaku putting his side in front with a headed goal from a wonderful Nemanja Matic cross only after a spell of sustained pressure from Brighton. The second half was much the same, with United putting in another uninspiring performance. Brighton’s inability to make chances count was only exacerbated by Chris Hughton’s decision to leave top scorer Glenn Murray on the bench until the last 15 minutes of the game. Matic then found himself on the end of Ashley Young’s free-kick and headed home to seal the game in the 83rd minute, though United’s overall performance lacked conviction.
Mark Hughes was appointed as Southampton’s new manager just 4 days before their tie against League One side Wigan, with his first game in charge being against the side that shocked the footballing world when they knocked out soon-to-be league champions Manchester City in the previous round. Wigan had several great chances in the first half which they failed to take, and after half time, and presumably some inspiring words from Hughes, Southampton began to take control of the match.
The breakthrough came in the 62nd minute when Danish midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg stole a march on his marker to power the ball past Wigan keeper Christian Walton. Southampton had the chance to double their lead after Manolo Gabbiadini was brought down in the box, but Walton produced a stunning save to deny the Italian forward. Wigan’s spirit was finally broken in added time of the second half, when Cedric Soares burst past the defence to tuck the ball neatly into the net. Wigan may have gone out, but they can hold their heads high at the performances they produced.
The final match of the round saw Leicester host Chelsea. Chelsea had also been victim of the mass-English-club-exodus from the Champions League, and perhaps the only way to salvage their faltering season is success in the FA cup.
In what was the most even match of the round, the London side took the lead through Alvaro Morata in the 42nd minute with a composed finish, following Willian’s dangerous run and well-timed pass. All was not lost for the Foxes however, Leicester gaining confidence after Jamie Vardy prodded the ball home during a scramble in the box with 14 minutes to play. This lead to extra time.
Halfway through the added half-hour, Pedro headed home following a disastrous error by Schmeichel, who came out to punch the ball away, but missed entirely. This was how the game ended, a 1-2 victory for the away side a fair result.
The draw for the semi-finals took place following the last match, resulting in a tantalising match-up between Manchester United and Tottenham, in a teatime kick-0ff to take place on 21st April, and Chelsea facing Southampton the next day at 15:00.