Old-school football almost works for West Ham
The truth is that I had actually forgotten it was the FA Cup final just before kick-off. Besides being unprofessional for a football writer, it indicates the reduced importance of the cup. Where it was once the absolute highlight of the season, far more important than winning the league, now it’s just another game, easily forgotten if you’re neutral.
Both teams tried hard enough, Liverpool stifled the blues for the first 20 minutes and should have gone ahead, Chelsea did the same early in the second half. Both teams missed chances in a tense confrontation and Luis Diaz was deservedly the man of the match. They managed to fight to a stoppage, just like they did in the League Cup final. You must be wondering what extensions are for. Both teams were exhausted, going straight to penalties would surely be a better bet than another half hour of football which, in truth, few really wanted to watch. This time, at least, the shots on goal weren’t in the double digits.
After Liverpool won it and celebrated the victory, they looked like all the other cup winning teams, delighted to have won the trophy and their fans celebrated like all cup winning fans through the ages, but for the rest of us, this won’t be remembered for long. Indeed, the two cup finals have already merged in the mind in a very long match without a goal.
So that’s two trophies won for the Reds. That they finish this season having played every game in every tournament they have entered is remarkable.
Chelsea have now lost three consecutive cup finals but the club has been sold and a new regime will soon be installed. Thomas Tuchel has to decide if he wants to work under them and if he does, then, as the final whistle blows for the season, he has to decide whether to reshape the squad to get the most out of Romelu Lukaku or abandon the dear striker. There is no doubt that the club drifted in the last third of the season, whether it was due to uncertainty over ownership or being more playful and tactical, it is not obvious. If they lose their last two games they could still finish fifth, but with their last game being at home to Watford that seems unlikely.
After the game, a beaming Klopp did something only true leaders do. Referring to Sadio Mane’s missed penalty, he told the interviewer that he told the player to take the penalty differently to how he normally would, so it was his fault that Sadio missed. To take responsibility in this way, to absorb the blame on behalf of his player is rather moving, perhaps especially at a time when so many public figures, from politicians to CEOs, are so eager to absolve themselves of blame for anything and everything. and don’t. no matter who gets thrown under the bus to do it.
If you kick a ball into someone’s arm, someone who has no choice but to let it hit their arm, it should never be a penalty. The act included the word “deliberate” and that is the crucial thing. Why should a player be penalized for something he had no agency over? It’s insane. The law was designed to prevent the advantage from being gained by deliberately handling the ball, Ashley Barnes kicked the ball against his arm and gained no advantage. Having your arms in a so-called “unnatural position” makes no sense. What is natural? There is no natural position for the arms when playing football. You know what’s not natural? Players defend with their arms behind their backs in Riverdance style. This is the very definition of unnatural. The old law worked well for over a century. Let’s get back to it and let go of VAR, the cause of these difficult and unworkable rule changes. It makes the game worse and more unfair and no sane fan ever wanted that to happen.
David Moyes is not a particularly sophisticated manager and that worked in his favor for their first goal against Manchester City which was scored, essentially, by starting it long on the City defense for Jarrod Bowen to run in and score. It was classic old-school longball football that had echoes of Wimbledon in 1988 and City had no defense against its stark simplicity. It was as if it were an extraterrestrial life form; something they had never seen before. The second goal was also out of the 1980s football playbook Soucek won a movie (very 80s is the movie), Antonio hit it behind the defence, Bowen ran over it to bring it home under a wide angle. Football can be a simple game if you want it to be and frankly most fans would rather see a long kick-start for the striker to score than any amount of indulgent tika-taka. Sometimes it’s like coaches are just trying to complicate the game to justify their ridiculous money or to look trendy.
It was no surprise when City equalized. They kept the ball for very long periods, West Ham only had it for 21% of the game, despite a brace. City managed 30 shots on goal, 23 off target and the tie was only achieved thanks to Riyad Mahrez’s Lucas Fabianski penalty save. It brings City to the brink of the title but if Liverpool beat Southampton on Tuesday it will be down to the final day. Liverpool take on Crystal Palace at home and City take on Villa at the Etihad. If Liverpool win, Steven Gerrard couldn’t pull off an unlikely away win to give his former club the title, could he?
No. Once again…
Everything that can go wrong this season for Leeds has gone wrong. Their team was decimated by injuries through the spine from the side. They were behind for most of the game with Brighton and never appeared to equalize Danny Welbeck’s first-half goal. When Pascal Struijk came on after 83 minutes, it took him just under nine minutes to make Leeds history with a nod from Joe Gelhardt’s cross. Brighton had plenty of chances to put the game past the Yorkshiremen with 15 strikes, six on target, but couldn’t convert more than one, a familiar problem for much of the season. This brought their total draws to 15, three short of the single-season record of 38 games. The draw only earned Leeds a point, but it took them out of the relegation spots with one game to play.