Rounding up the best and worst of the FA Cup action over the weekend.
Goal of the weekend
Salomon Rondon is one of those players who, when you watch them play, look like they should be pretty good, even if all available evidence tells us that in reality they are not. But players like that are capable of producing isolated moments of brilliance — like the one we saw Saturday against Southampton, when Rondon did a passable impersonation of Robin van Persie in launching himself into the air and battering a left-footed volley into the net.
Expectations of the weekend
The juxtaposition was obvious. Two 2-2 draws in a week, one against Juventus in the Champions League and one against Rochdale in the FA Cup. It provides a reductive but nonetheless at least partly true summary of Tottenham’s season: big performances in big games, combined with relative struggles against weaker opposition.
It does suggest a slight failure to learn, a weakness in Tottenham’s collective psychology, able to get up for the multiple Serie A champions but not for the team bottom of League One. But more than that, it further emphasises what an incredibly difficult thing it is, without a squad stuffed with absolutely elite players, to cope with the mental demands of four high-level competitions.
Tottenham are expected to finish in the top four, make an impression on the Champions League, develop young players and win a trophy to prove their progress. It’s not impossible but it’s close, and perhaps they shouldn’t be criticised too harshly for not reaching those levels yet.
Moment of the weekend
Steve Davies’ career history looks like a string of “almost” moves. He joined Derby the summer after they were in the Premier League, then signed for Blackpool two seasons on from their brief stint in the top flight.
He is, with the greatest of respect, the very model of a journeyman Football League striker, his time in the game made up of moderately successful spells in the Championship and League One.
But that’s why this is such a glorious sport, because when, with 94 minutes on the clock, the Rochdale centre-forward chested down a cross and swept the ball into the bottom corner in one free and easy motion, you could have easily mistaken him for Harry Kane.
Weak selection of the weekend
Whether or not the incident involving a McDonald’s, a bucket of booze and a taxi in Spain really is a symbol of West Brom’s continuing decay under Alan Pardew, the way he managed their FA Cup defeat to Southampton emphasised the manager’s weakness.
Jonny Evans and Gareth Barry, two of the men who apologised for their part in the shenanigans, were selected for the game, despite their transgressions. It’s not like Pardew was forced into picking the pair by a lack of options: Evans played left-back and Barry was in midfield, but a pair of perfectly serviceable alternatives — Chris Brunt and Claudio Yacob were on the bench.
Pardew picked Evans and Barry because they’re two of his better players, and given the mess he has helped to create at the Hawthorns he can’t afford not to select them. If he had any authority in the West Brom dressing room, or had actually improved results since arriving, he would have surely left out the two senior players who acted like irresponsible teenagers.
Summary of the weekend
Some of the problems with VAR were highlighted herein a few weeks ago, and you’ll hear, read and see many more takes — hot, cold or lukewarm — every time a new flaw in the still developing system is exposed.
But among the nuances of the debate, there is something more fundamental here, and it was summed up by by David Wagner, the Huddersfield manager who we must remember benefitted from VAR this weekend.
“I don’t like it, I never have,” Wagner said. “Maybe I’m too traditional, but it kills the emotion in the stadium, and for me that’s a big part of football’s attraction.”
First impression of the weekend
In the Premier League this season, Brighton have done reasonably well. They’re 14th, only two points above the bottom three, but it’s about where you would expect a side who haven’t been in the top division for a couple of generations to be.
Their general performances have broadly been pretty good, Chris Hughton finding an element of solidity and smartly rotating his attacking players to keep them relatively fresh. But they have lacked a real goal scorer: Glenn Murray has eight, which is a very respectable total, but he is sluggish and often profligate.
Welcome then, Jurgen Locadia, the January signing from PSV who scored on his debut at the weekend. Sure, it was only against Coventry, but he looked dynamic, purposeful and decisive: the finish for his goal was terrific, swept into the corner in a manner that would have been impressive whoever the opponent. If he turns out to be as good as he looked in this game, at £14 million Brighton may have an absolute bargain.
Redemption of the weekend
The problem wasn’t so much Riyad Mahrez’s desire to play for Manchester City, more how he expressed his frustration at not being allowed to. Bridges looked burned at Leicester, but he returned to the starting XI for their tie against Sheffield United, set up Jamie Vardy’s goal and departed to a standing ovation.
Leicester are really the only club remaining who can give the FA Cup their full attention: everyone else has bigger — or at least other — fish to fry. Drawing Chelsea isn’t ideal, but this tournament must be their main focus from this point. And if he does insist on leaving, what better way for Mahrez to actually bow out than at Wembley in May.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.