FA Cup, Scottish Cup and Premier League: 10 talking points

Guardian sport
Clockwise: Wayne Rooney gave Man Utd a boost before the City game, Sam Clucas was in fine form for Hull, Celtic’s Brendan Rodgers has an attacking conundrum and did Boro miss a managerial trick? Composite: Getty Images

1) Guardiola trading on his past record for now

This is the first time Pep Guardiola has failed to win a trophy in any of his eight seasons as a manager and, however it is dressed up, that amounts to a crashing disappointing bearing in mind the level of expectation at Manchester City and their near-obsession with appointing him. A reasonable argument could be made that Guardiola would be facing the sack were it not for his record of 21 trophies in seven years at Barcelona and Bayern Munich and it will be intriguing to see what the club’s chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, makes of it in his usual end-of-season review. Mubarak described Manuel Pellegrini’s final season at the club, when City won the Capital One Cup, finished fourth in the Premier League and reached the semi‑finals of the Champions League, as the bare minimum. Guardiola’s team have accumulated more league points than the 32-game mark last season, 64 to 57, but they have regressed in every other way. “Next season we will be stronger,” Guardiola said. He had better be right because the people in charge in Abu Dhabi will not tolerate a repeat. Daniel Taylor

Match report: Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City

2) Eriksen should not still be overlooked

Tottenham will scratch their heads and try not to get too angsty about their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea. Perhaps it would have been better to have lost this game in a straightforward way, outclassed for 90 minutes or beaten by some sharp finishing. Instead Spurs lost in a weird, confusing way, dominating at times, but somehow going down 4-2 to more hoary-handed opponents. It must be hard in particular for Christian Eriksen, who found himself in the rare position of playing two sublime scoring passes, in particular that wonderful ball for Dele Alli’s run, but still losing the game. Eriksen’s craft in particular should give Tottenham heart for the rest of this season. He has 11 goals and 16 assists in all competitions now, is so often a delight to watch, and remains a candidate for most underrated and largely unheralded creative player in the Premier League. Barney Ronay

Match report: Chelsea 4-2 Tottenham Hotspur
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Christian Eriksen gets on the ball during Tottenham’s FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea. Photograph: Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

3) Rooney up for Manchester derby

As in life, football is all about timing, so are Manchester United about to end the season by finishing in the top four at Manchester City’s (or Liverpool’s) expense? Until this weekend Pep Guardiola’s side appeared to be coasting to a Champions League berth but they wake on Monday to the unthinkable prospect of a trophy-less campaign plus no elite European football next term. United beat Burnley to leave them only a point behind City before Thursday’s derby. Later on Sunday City were knocked out of the FA Cup semi-finals by Arsenal. If this was not enough, factor in a debilitating tie in the sunshine stretched to the full 120 minutes, and United have a golden chance to land a sizeable blow at the Etihad Stadium. As Wayne Rooney said: “It’s two great teams and it’s massive for City. There’s a fight for the top four and we’re both in the fight. We’ll be ready.” Jamie Jackson

Match report: Burnley 0-2 Manchester United

4) Clucas’s remarkable rise continues

If Marco Silva deserves every plaudit going – and he is certainly showing up a few top-tier managerial peers, most notably Sunderland’s David Moyes – Sam Clucas must surely be Hull’s player of the season. Like Silva, the midfielder is a big reason why survival hopes remain strong and, on Saturday, he played a very big part in helping his 10-man team beat Watford. Remarkably, Clucas has played in English football’s top five divisions in successive seasons, with this startling rise prompted by Glenn Hoddle. Perhaps fittingly, the 25-yard left-foot volley with which the 26-year-old put Hull 2-0 up was a goal Hoddle, who rescued his career after his release by Lincoln seven years ago, would have savoured. Ditto the measured passing skills first honed at the former England coach’s Spanish academy, which are apparently now impressing Hoddle’s latest international successor, Gareth Southgate. Louise Taylor

Match report: Hull City 2-0 Watford

5) Benteke shows up Liverpool failings

It wasn’t so much a muted celebration, more a deadpan one: with the faint hint of a smile on his lips, Christian Benteke looked quietly delighted to have scored twice against his old club. He now has as many goals against Liverpool at Anfield as he did for them there (five), so it perhaps wasn’t a surprise that he scored two on Sunday. Neither was it startling that Liverpool slipped up against a “weaker” team. There’s nobody better at playing teams in the top half, unbeaten in 16 games against the Premier League’s cream as they are, but they are seventh in a table of results against those in the bottom half. It gets even worse with the bottom third, where they’re 11th. With both Manchester clubs breathing down their necks and Arsenal nine points back with three games in hand, Liverpool’s curious problems with the lesser lights of the top flight could end up costing them a Champions League place. Nick Miller

Match report: Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace

Christian Benteke, left, celebrates scoring against Liverpool at Anfield. He got both in Crystal Palace’s 2-1 win. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

6) Clement takes the relegation strain

Paul Clement is used to being involved in high-pressure games. He is used to competing for Champions League trophies with Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, or readying himself for a Premier League title run-in with Chelsea. But battling to keep Swansea City in England’s top tier is new territory for the Englishman, who made his name by assisting Carlo Ancelotti at some of Europe’s biggest clubs. The Swans trail 17th-placed Hull City by two points with just four fixtures remaining. The Welsh club have to travel to Manchester United on Sunday, before hosting an in-form Everton the following week. These games will be Clement’s Champions League finals. “I’m now the one making the big decisions,” he said. “The pressure is far greater on me but for the team, whether you’re fighting for titles or staying in the league, they’re both high-pressure situations.” Jake Bacon

Match report: Swansea City 2-0 Stoke City

7) Koeman set for summer of transfer activity

It looks like it’s going to be a busy summer for Ronald Koeman and Steve Walsh, with a probable Europa League campaign to plan for, a first-team squad to continue developing and one or two more of the under-23 side, likely champions of their division, to be integrated into the squad. David Unsworth’s young side have a game to play against Liverpool and are six points clear of Manchester City who play their match in hand, also against Liverpool, on Monday and Everton’s goal difference is eight better. On Saturday at West Ham Joel Robles was dropped for Maarten Stekelenburg, with both goalkeepers yet to make convincing cases to get the No1 job permanently; there are doubts about the mobility of Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams at the back; Ross Barkley has yet to commit to a new deal; and James McCarthy’s fitness or lack of it remains a live issue. And then there is the Romelu Lukaku situation, two years remaining but not happy. A top-seven finish is acceptable for a squad in transition after three years of Roberto Martínez’s possession for possession’s sake football but Everton were guilty of similar on Saturday in the London Stadium’s first goalless draw. Mark Tallentire

Match report: West Ham United 0-0 Everton

8) Gibson missed a trick with Pardew

Football, like life, is full of “sliding doors” moments, heavily punctuated by “what ifs”. After sacking Aitor Karanka, Steve Gibson, Middlesbrough’s owner, ignored the pile of hats thrown into the Teesside ring by would-be managerial successors and promoted the inexperienced Steve Agnew from within. While Agnew has failed to win a game since and seen the side all but relegated following Saturday’s implosion at Bournemouth, things just might have been different had Gibson hired Alan Pardew. “Pardiola” has a record of instantly improving teams and, crucially, is essentially a counterattacking coach. With Boro very much set up to play on the break by an over-cautious Karanka, the rather more extrovert Pardew seemed precisely the right personality and tactician to rescue them. Instead the height of their current ambitions is achieving a first league win of 2017 against Sunderland in The Riverside’s “derby of the doomed” on Wednesday. Louise Taylor

Match report: Bournemouth 4-0 Middlesbrough


9) Rodgers creating a problem where none exists

Despite being the master of all before him, Brendan Rodgers hasn’t quite mastered one Celtic dilemma; how to play Moussa Dembélé and Leigh Griffiths consistently in the same team. The issue was apparent at Hampden against Rangers after Dembélé’s enforced removal through injury, Griffiths stepping from the bench to replace the France Under-21 player. Griffiths duly won the penalty that confirmed Celtic’s success and provided the kind of threat which was evident last season, when the Scotland international notched 40 goals. Griffiths has had struggles with fitness and form since then but, certainly in a Scottish context, remains a constant threat to opponents. Dembélé’s status and ability are hardly up for debate. Yet Griffiths, who is still only 26, has plenty to offer. It seems a shame that Celtic have developed a policy of one or the other. Ewan Murray

Match report: Celtic 2-0 Rangers

Brendan Rodgers has developed a policy of playing either Moussa Dembélé or Leigh Griffiths. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

10) Aberdeen steel themselves for talent exodus

It may be that the Scottish Cup final marks both the high and end point for the squad as assembled by Derek McInnes at Pittodrie. Consistency of selection and the building of an experienced team have been key to Aberdeen’s gradual development. And yet, curiously, other clubs have not tried to poach their best talent. That may now change. The captain, Ryan Jack, is out of contract in the summer. Niall McGinn will move to England while Championship interest is also inevitable in the impressive Jonny Hayes, Graeme Shinnie and Kenny McLean. McInnes himself, after a wounding time at Bristol City, will inevitably relish another spell south of the border. Aberdeen’s fans are right to enjoy this season’s climax, with second place in the league almost assured and now a Hampden showpiece to come. A degree of enforced upheaval might be the cost of success thereafter. Ewan Murray

Match report: Hibernian 2-3 Aberdeen

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