Weekend Round-Up: Chelsea and Arsenal reach FA Cup final, Man United close on top four, Hull's survival boost

Alex Netherton
The stars of this weekend’s football fixtures

Wayne Rooney is, more or less, finished. As pointed out by many people, his prospective destinations are China, America, or Everton. For Everton, it feels like he will be used as a marketing tool for a newly rich side rather than for any serious footballing reasons. Rooney cannot really run much anymore, or be relied upon to do anything, but there was a little bit of a change in his attitude against Burnley.

For the past couple of years it has seemed that Rooney has struggled with his own ability, as if finding it hard to reconcile what he wants to do in his head, with what his body allows. He has seemed frustrated with absolutely everyone as well as himself, happy to lash out. But against Burnley it was more like the old Rooney. He was competent on the pitch, and happy to be there seemingly, given a reprise by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injured knee. His frustrations were aimed at the referees and linesman, who were admittedly completely useless.

On the pitch, he didn’t try anything ridiculous, he simply tried to do what he can on reduced expectations. He managed it, and he was on hand to force a goal to settle the tie. WIth a handful of games left, and few players fit in the squad, Rooney has the surprising opportunity to actually end the season on a positive note.

Chelsea juggle their resources 

Nemanja Matic has had to fight with Cesc Fabregas to assert himself as the premier partner for N’Golo Kante. There have been times when he pulled way ahead of the Spaniard, but now it seems Antonio Conte feels has less confidence in Matic. There is, obviously, still trust in the player, but Conte used this match to rest some of his most important players. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were both dropped to the bench, and were brought on later in the tie to seal victory against a Spurs side who had fought doggedly, but simply came off worst.

The argument might be made that Chelsea have more match-winners than Spurs, players who can score from nothing, but that doesn’t exactly hold true. While Chelsea have Hazard, Willian and Costa, Spurs can call upon Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Heung-min Son and Dele Alli in order to score from distance or with genius. What is true is that on Saturday, Chelsea simply had more players who were able to make a difference. Willian’s free kick was a predictably wonderful effort, but Matic’s was such a shock it almost wiped Kurt Zouma’s memory. The title race is still on, but it was a reminder to Spurs that Chelsea’s wobble is likely to be brief, and manageable.

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Hull City are a testament to Marco Silva

It feels weird to look at the table and see Watford in 10th. They have, obviously, done well enough for another season to stay in charge, and Alec Baldwin can be proud of negotiating a lack of goals from Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, and juggling his players through a miserable injury crisis earlier in the season. But there is something grey about their year, in that getting accustomed to mid-table life in the Premier League isn’t especially thrilling. It is existing more than it is living, and fans will need an injection of hope in the summer. Trudging to away grounds for four consecutive losses could start to wear out the support.

Hull, though, can only dream of such restlessness. For all Marco Siva’s excellent reorganisation at Hull City, they are still just a handful of points above the relegation zone. One slip could ruin their season, and send them down. But their focus appears resolute, and their tactical discipline is resilient. Down to 10 men against Watford, they still managed to secure a two-goal victory over Watford, and stay just ahead of Swansea beneath them. Watford are in danger of letting their season drift, but Hull are fighting to enjoy that luxury next year.

Liverpool pay for mediocrity

While Manchester United have – so far – briefly coped with their injury crisis, Liverpool stumbled against Crystal Palace. Palace enjoyed their third consecutive victory, and Christian Benteke will have really enjoyed it. Benteke is an admirable player, with more skill than people expect from him. But as their injuries spread, the thin quality of their mediocre squad will be exposed. Liverpool have a compounded problem with injuries, because Jurgen Klopp’s physically demanding approach to the game doesn’t let anyone nurse strains or manage their fitness.

The thing about Sam Allardyce which the big clubs need to worry about is, that Sam Allardyce carries a chip sandwich on his shoulder. He clearly resents never having been rewarded for his performance at a lower-table club, and he must be spiky following his working experience for England. Against Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea, he wants to prove something (he is kin of Mourinho and Alex Ferguson, so he’s less fussed about that). Allardyce is clever, tactically astute and able to motivate his players. With Palace, he has a team who are currently playing as he asks, and with belief. As Klopp found out today, a mediocre display will be gladly punished by Allardyce.

Guardiola gambles on letting Aguero go

It’s not often that you have a great deal to do when you are put through on goal. But Sergio Aguero, with 166 goals now the joint-top scorer for Manchester City, it was a brilliant example of all his qualities. He had to hold Nacho Monreal – no slouch – at bay, and he had to do so with the knowledge that his hamstrings have never been the most resilient. He had to tee up the finish with Petr Cech coming out to close him down, and keep his cool. Aguero is due to leave Manchester City, assuming Pep Guardiola can find a willing taker (that’s the easy part), and find a player who he believes is more suited to his style (that’s the harder part).

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Regardless of Guardiola’s style, letting a player go who can produce all kinds of finishes, such as Sunday’s where he neatly guided the ball over an onrushing ‘keeper, who has scored 12 in 12, is a risk. This is not the kind of decision that is taken for a player who is in decline, this is a player who is one of the very best in the world. It is hard to think that Guardiola is doing much else beyond tempting hubris to come down and slap him in the chops.

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