Guardiola hamstrung by two witless ‘keepers
When Manchester City appointed Pep Guardiola, they probably would have expected a few things. They would have imagined that the team would score some exceptionally impressive goals, and on occasion they’ve got that. They would have planned to see the team starve the opposition of the ball, and to play like a Barcelona-in-the-making. In some ways, they’ve got that too, but with the quality of the squad it is still, understandably, a while away yet from being a direct comparison.
What they won’t have envisaged, we can guess, is that the team would have been hobbled by a choice of two clowns in goal. Claudio Bravo seems a broken man, and Willy Caballero flaps at shots much as he has for most of his City career. There’s no point pretending Joe Hart is any better than either of these two goalkeepers, because he has shown at Torino that he lacks for composure too. When City’s board sit down to review next season’s end, they will hope now that they can be proud of a new ‘keeper. A ‘keeper who can actually catch.
READ MORE: Chelsea regain control of title race
Spurs demonstrate plenty of character in their second title chase
When you run your players into the ground, you take a risk. Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris, Danny Rose, Harry Winks and Erik Lamela were all missing against Swansea. You can get away with missing one or two of your best players, but when it starts creeping up to three or more, any team struggles. For Spurs, it seemed that they had crept into that position just at the wrong time.
This round was a chance to at least stay in touch with Chelsea after making up a sliver of ground at the weekend. The pressure needs to be constant if it is to have any effect at all. Instead, Spurs had to deal with Swansea City. Swansea are far from perfect under Paul Clement, but they are reinvigorated and not collapsing into relegation. Like Hull, they are fighting under a new man.
Jordan Ayew was representative of Swansea, chasing the defence as much as his legs and lungs would permit, and their hard work was enough to defeat Spurs, it appeared. Yet in 10 minutes, seven of them as added time, Spurs added three goals, with the consistently magnificent Dele Alli, the quietly effective Heung-Min Son, and the increasingly prominent Christian Eriksen, they are still in with a chance. It is more than they would have expected this time last week.
A chance for Shaw to finally learn a lesson
After he was told he wasn’t fit enough last year, he posted a video of himself working out, as if it were no big deal. Jose Mourinho wasn’t convinced, preferring Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young at left-back instead of Shaw. He played about 20 minutes of football, and when there was a defensive crisis, Mourinho pointed out that if he were to knuckle down and show commitment, then he would be the best left-back at the club and likely to feature regularly.
There were clear-the-air talks at United before the game, between Shaw and Mourinho, and he was called back to the bench. He got to play 25 minutes, and was instrumental in the equaliser after a tepid performance from United. He was, in a large way, the difference. Yet after the match, Mourinho praised him for being there in the flesh, but praised his own brain for controlling the player.
Perhaps Mourinho was trying to establish that if Shaw listened, he would feature, and that in time, he would learn to be the kind of defender that Mauricio Pochettino, Louis van Gaal and Roy Hodgson all know he can be. He obviously has a way to go still.
Craig Shakespeare makes his case for the Barcelona job
It’s only Sunderland – and they are managed by a man who would rather make a scandal over violence against women worse than better – but Craig Shakespeare oversaw yet another win for Leicester. This British Roberto Di Matteo has lifted Leicester away from relegation trouble and got them playing with such verve and fun that he should be disappointed if he isn’t given the chance to have a real season with a transfer window behind him.
There are a handful of games before the match against Atletico Madrid. In that time, Shakespeare has to keep the run of form going, and start to make Leicester believe that they really are the team of last season. There is now a vague chance that they could even squeeze into the semi-finals with a bit of luck, and who better to replace Luis Enrique than the vanquisher of Seville?
Mesut Ozil flickers into life, but perhaps too late for himself, Wenger and Arsenal
Mesut Ozil is an excellent player, should he choose to be. Jose Mourinho is interested in him, and you don’t find many flighty number 10s that he cares for. It took him selling Juan Mata and then being presented with no other options before the pair of them appreciated each other, after all. Real Madrid enjoyed him, and Arsenal and their fans were thrilled to have him. He was their big player when everyone else was deserting them to actually win stuff.
Ozil was joined by Alexis Sanchez, and then he promptly faded from prominence. A brilliant player, compared to a brilliant player who runs around as much as his body allows, is less impressive. There’s no hint that he doesn’t care or try, merely that all that he offers isn’t enough for the very best in the world. Sometimes though, it doesn’t matter, and Ozil can still saunter around with his slow-motion excellence, and intervene. In a London derby that could have gone unpleasantly south, like Woolwich itself, Ozil gave Arsenal a chance. Two goals moved Arsenal into fifth, and gave Wenger a few days longer of his self-imposed misery. Wenger is left counting on Liverpool, City and United’s own remarkable capacity for self-sabotage and under-performance. Given how this season has gone, there’s no point assuming that he won’t squeak through yet again.