FA Cup, Premier League, EFL and Old Firm game: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action

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Guardian sport
·10-min read
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1) Reaching FA Cup final a triumph for Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers’ previous FA Cup semi-final visit, in April 2015, ended in disaster, a deserved 2-1 loss with Liverpool to an Aston Villa team inspired by a teenage Jack Grealish. That was an afternoon when Liverpool froze but six years on, Rodgers is a manager with considerably more chops. His Leicester team approached their Sunday night visit to Wembley with poise, confidence and patience. On the sidelines, and even above the 4,000 fans in the stadium as part of a post-Covid experiment, Rodgers’s baritone was audible, talking his players through each passage of play. His suit is always reassuringly expensive but Rodgers remains a tracksuit manager, someone who mucks in with his players on the training field, and the revival of Kelechi Iheanacho, the winning goalscorer, is another example of his ability to improve talent. And a first final in English football is a mark of Rodgers’ continued growth as a manager. John Brewin

FA Cup match report: Leicester 1-0 Southampton

2) Sterling unresponsive to Pep’s challenge

Unhappy with Raheem Sterling revealing his frustration at his “weird” season in an interview with Rio Ferdinand, Pep Guardiola had challenged the Manchester City forward to do his talking on the pitch. The challenge for Sterling, on the fringes recently, was to make his point with goals and assists. By the end of City’s defeat in their FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea, though, it was obvious why Guardiola has been picking Phil Foden instead. Sterling, who has one goal in his last 12 games, was poor. The England international was sloppy in possession, hesitant trying to take on César Azpilicueta and wasteful when he had a chance to rescue City with a late equaliser, with Gareth Southgate watching from the stands at Wembley. Much more of this and England’s manager also will be giving strong consideration to picking Foden over Sterling. Jacob Steinberg

FA Cup match report: Chelsea 1-0 Manchester City

Related: Pep Guardiola left to ponder his fatal flaw with quadruple dream in ruins | Jonathan Wilson

3) Ritchie stands tall when he is needed most

Allan Saint-Maximin did more than anyone to secure a victory that places survival firmly within Newcastle’s grasp but Matt Ritchie also merits a mention in dispatches. Ritchie has spent much of this season in first-team exile but an urgent need for points – allied to a return to the back five in which he excelled under Rafael Benítez – has seen Steve Bruce restore him prominence at left wing-back. It is no coincidence Newcastle have won two and drawn one of their matches since an ultra-committed individual, brilliant at galvanising those around him, was readmitted to the fold. Appropriately, Ritchie’s cross prefaced another late winner from Newcastle’s new super-sub Joe Willock. The Arsenal loanee was told he had not done enough to warrant a starting slot but would Willock have conceded midfield possession as many times as Jonjo Shelvey did? Louise Taylor

Match report: Newcastle 3-2 West Ham

4) Mourinho waits anxiously on Kane

“Let me be optimistic and believe it’s nothing serious,” Jose Mourinho almost pleaded when asked to assess Harry Kane’s latest ankle injury. The Spurs manager insisted he would give a qualified diagnosis on Tuesday, at his press conference for Wednesday’s home game against Southampton, once the striker’s ankle has had time to settle and after a full medical assessment has been undertaken. It was hard to share optimism at Goodison Park, however, where Kane immediately signalled to the bench following his collision with Richarlison and the implications of a serious setback exceed even Mourinho’s prospects of winning the Carabao Cup final without his leading marksman. The England captain’s body language did not bode well for Spurs after scoring his 20th and 21st Premier League goals of the season, never mind after his stoppage-time injury, with the responsibility of carrying a team struggling to qualify for Europe evident in his reactions. Mourinho is not the only person connected to Spurs praying for a reprieve. Andy Hunter

Match report: Everton 2-2 Tottenham

Carlo Ancelotti comforts Harry Kane as he departs the Goodison Park scene
Carlo Ancelotti comforts Harry Kane as he departs the Goodison Park scene. Photograph: Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

5) Nketiah’s goal may prelude chance to shine

Eddie Nketiah has had a rough ride this season, particularly given the degree of fanfare when he burst on to the Premier League scene in the second half of 2019-20. He did not feature at all for Arsenal between 30 January and 11 April and until Sunday’s dramatic draw with Fulham had not scored in any competition since December. It appears likely he will be allowed to leave this summer but, given Alexandre Lacazette has joined Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in being a fitness worry for the coming weeks, Nketiah may now receive an unlikely chance to turn his fortunes around. It looks like Europa League or bust for Mikel Arteta’s side and, while Nketiah has neither Aubameyang’s star quality nor Lacazette’s presence, he certainly knows how to sniff out a goal. What a story it would be if, in a campaign that has seen Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe steal the show, another academy product stole in to save Arsenal from obscurity. Nick Ames

Match report: Arsenal 1-1 Fulham

Related: Tammy Abraham considering Chelsea future after FA Cup semi-final snub

6) Blades a prime job for managers, says Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom, Sheffield United’s interim manager, believes high-quality applicants will be “knocking the door down” for the chance to help the club mount an immediate return to the Premier League following the relegation that was confirmed with Saturday’s defeat at Molineux. “One hundred per cent [this is a] great job,” said the former Barnsley manager, who has overseen five straight defeats since succeeding Chris Wilder. “It’s a fantastic club just come down from Premier League with a great bunch of players and a big desire to get straight back. They don’t come around very often, those opportunities. So people will be queuing up – knocking the door down – to present themselves as the right man to bring Sheffield United right back.” United still need eight points from their final six matches to avoid yielding the club’s all-time record low of 22, their tally when finishing bottom of the First Division in 1975-76. Peter Lansley

Match report: Wolves 1-0 Sheffield United

7) Greenwood in a league of his own for United

Given United’s involvement in the frankly revolting closed-shop European super league plan, to praise their on-pitch behaviour feels gauche – almost as gauche as the Premier League, whose avarice helped create the current climate, preaching morality as the wounded party. But here we are, so: Mason Greenwood is good at football. Though he’s only just started scoring again, he is a much more rounded player than the goalscoring freak of nature who was so devastating last season. But Sunday’s match was all about his finishing. When Bruno Fernandes dummied Marcus Rashford’s ball across, there was not the slightest doubt Greenwood would dispatch it with the cold-blooded cruelty that has become his calling card, and though his winning goal was deflected, the speed, whip and venom of his shot – on target, as his strikes almost always are – earned the deflection that took it past Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Gareth Southgate would be foolish not to pick him for the Euros. Daniel Harris

Match report: Manchester United 3-1 Burnley

Related: How Norwich made getting straight back to the Premier League look easy

8) Wembley flop leaves Saints season in tatters

There had been an old-school quality to Southampton’s concentrating on the FA Cup. Since they began their route to Wembley on 19 January against Shrewsbury, they had beaten only Sheffield United and Burnley in 11 Premier League matches. And against opposition of a considerably higher level, they struggled to come out of their shell and never particularly tested Leicester’s defence. Pushing too far forward meant they were caught out by the type of move from which Kelechi Iheanacho scored the winner. Having been top of the Premier League in November and prioritising the FA Cup having not paid off, their season must now register as one of unfulfilled promise. Where that leaves Ralph Hasenhüttl is a leading question, and with the Bundesliga appearing set for a managerial merry-go-round with Hansi Flick leaving Bayern Munich his future can be in considerable doubt. John Brewin

9) Gerrard has proved his mettle as a manager

Where we’d be now had Brendan Rodgers stayed at Celtic, or had Celtic not replaced him with Neil Lennon, is impossible to say. But what we can say for sure is that Rangers are the best team in Scotland – a terrific tribute to Steven Gerrard. As a player he was powered by instinct not intellect and as a captain inspired by deeds not words, the opposite of what you’d expect from a successful manager. But he has approached the job with a steely certainty, spelling out what he expects from players while knowing the professional satisfaction they derive from his approval. The question now, then, is what happens next. It may be that Rangers’ current squad is good enough to retain the title, but with Celtic sure to improve, Gerrard will still want reinforcements – to help domestically and for a proper go in the Champions League. Daniel Harris

Match report: Rangers 2-0 Celtic

Steven Gerrard celebrates his latest Old Firm triumph.
Steven Gerrard celebrates his latest Old Firm triumph. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

10) Norwich are better equipped for safety

Twenty-one points from 38 games, garnished with 10 consecutive defeats to finish things off and featuring 27 goals scored and 75 goals conceded, suggests that Norwich’s relegation last season was ignominious – and it was. But though it wasn’t as dispiriting as the numbers suggest, the club still did well not to panic in the close season, retaining the services of Daniel Farke and keeping hold of Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendía. Now, they’ll have to do it all over again because there are sure to be suitors this summer, but a strong case can be made that, despite their contributions, the club’s best player this season has been Oliver Skipp, on loan from Spurs. If José Mourinho deems him ready, there won’t be much Norwich can do, but if they can keep him – and even if they can’t – expect a far better showing than last time. Daniel Harris

Norwich seal promotion after Brentford and Swansea are held

Pos

Team

P

GD

Pts

1

Man City

32

44

74

2

Man Utd

32

29

66

3

Leicester

31

18

56

4

West Ham

32

11

55

5

Chelsea

31

19

54

6

Liverpool

31

16

52

7

Tottenham Hotspur

32

17

50

8

Everton

31

3

49

9

Arsenal

32

8

46

10

Leeds

31

0

45

11

Aston Villa

30

10

44

12

Wolverhampton

32

-9

41

13

Crystal Palace

31

-19

38

14

Southampton

31

-17

36

15

Newcastle

32

-18

35

16

Brighton

31

-5

33

17

Burnley

32

-19

33

18

Fulham

33

-18

27

19

West Brom

31

-31

24

20

Sheff Utd

32

-39

14