Big Weekend: Manchester City v Chelsea, Everton, Declan Rice, Jurgen Klopp, El Clasico

Dave Tickner
Everton keeper Jordan Pickford, Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino and Arsenal midfielder Declan Rice
An important weekend in the Barclays and whatever people call the FA Cup now

It’s FA Cup semi-final weekend, while in the league Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton must all swiftly come to terms with assorted and various recent disappointments. There’s also a Clasico in Spain and the latest instalments of the head-spinningly silly Championship promotion race.

It’s a Big Weekend, is what we’re saying here.


Game to watch: Manchester City v Chelsea
Seemed straightforward enough at the time of the draw, this one. Man City were Man City, on their way to a double treble probably, while Chelsea were having a second consecutive stinker of a season and had taken advantage of a relatively kindly draw to tiptoe through to the FA Cup semi-final despite intrinsic rubbishness.

Not quite so clear cut now. City are still big favourites, but it’s only going to be part of a common or garden double if they beat Chelsea here and (in all likelihood) Manchester United (again) next month.

And City haven’t been quite so good this season against the best opposition. They have no wins against Arsenal or Liverpool and are out of the Champions League having also failed to win either leg against Real Madrid, before sending Bernardo Silva up to take a very weird penalty.

Weirdly, that troubling record against the very best extends to Chelsea after a pair of draws in the league.

And while we cannot pretend Chelsea are no longer capable of abject silliness – they have after all recently drawn 2-2 with both Burnley and Sheffield United – their recent trend is upward.

It kind of had to be, but still. The extra-time defeat to Liverpool in the Carabao final is the only one they’ve suffered in the last 12 games. They have league wins over both Newcastle and Man United in the recent formline and have just done a madness against an Everton side who, while deeply troubled, are not in the habit of losing 6-0 that often.

That Carabao defeat is also pertinent, because it highlights how this is surely a game that matters more to Chelsea. They need this more than City, especially now the treble is off the table.

Chelsea have somehow become English football’s very expensive nearly men, defeated in their last six domestic finals. They have also chosen a manager who has finished second an uncomfortable number of times now with English clubs.

Chelsea haven’t won anything for a couple of years. That’s not a major concern at most clubs, but most clubs don’t have a billion-pound squad. Todd Boehly’s wait for a Chelsea pot is already longer than any ‘drought’ Roman Abramovich endured.

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Team to watch: Everton
Purely because it’s always interesting to see how any side bounce back from the sort of mortifying humiliation Everton suffered in front of everyone on Monday night.

Most of the focus of the Chelsea Penalty Row has been on how embarrassing an incident it was for Chelsea, and that’s fair enough; but look at it from the Everton angle. You’re getting absolutely obliterated by a team still so disunited and running so purely on selfish, individual instincts that it is incapable of following an instruction as clear and simple as ‘Cole Palmer is our penalty taker’.

It’s one thing to watch your players debase themselves like that, but quite another to watch your players get smashed to bits by said dafties.

And there is no time for introspection or wound-licking, with Everton forced to dust themselves off for El Deductico (needs work, we know) against Nottingham Forest, where defeat for either side could have dire consequences.

As much as anything else, Monday’s paddling off a very silly Chelsea team has left Everton’s goal difference just as bad as Forest’s.


Manager to watch: Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool gave a lost cause a right good go on Thursday night. They had to, really. If nothing else they had to do something to get the last two horrible, season-shaping performances out of their system.

And they kind of did that. They were much less bad at Atalanta than in the first leg or against Palace. But that came at a cost, with Klopp admitting afterwards that this exercise in dignity-salvaging left him unsure who would be ready and able to try and keep this weary team’s title challenge just about upright for the trip to Fulham.

You never know what you’re going to get at the Cottage these days, but Liverpool cannot afford any more slips now. The Klopp Farewell Quadruple was always a stretch target, of course, but there’s no denying the now probable Klopp Farewell Single would underwhelm a bit.

👉 Klopp: Liverpool will ‘have to see who can go again’ after gruelling Atalanta effort
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Player to watch: Declan Rice
Inexplicably praised for the old UK media favourite of ‘fronting up’ in the wake of the pretty meek Bayern defeat, Declan Rice now needs to stand up and shake Arsenal from the malaise that threatens to consume them.

It’s been a nightmare week for sure, the two disappointing efforts against a non-vintage Bayern Munich side going through their own strife domestically sandwiching that costly league collapse against Aston Villa.

Arsenal simply have to respond in what now looks a trappy little trip to a Wolves side that has claimed a couple of notable home scalps this season already.

And Rice is vital, not just because he always is but because he is the most high-profile new element of this team. He is the most important and best Arsenal player who bares no scars that can be reopened from last season’s run-in.

These are the times when you can really prove you’re worth that chunky transfer fee. And showing some stoic dignity in the wake of another defeat won’t really cut it for anyone who doesn’t write for a weird British newspaper.

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Have Arsenal got it in them to bounce back after a miserable week? Join the debate.

European game to watch: Real Madrid v Barcelona
Contrasting Champions League fortunes for these two add a touch of entirely unneeded extra spice to a fixture that would see Real Madrid take a surely insurmountable 11-point lead if they can capitalise on their opponents’ lingering frustrations at the way their Big Cup hopes fell apart in midweek.

Both teams expended plenty of energy and effort in midweek and Madrid were dragged the full distance by Manchester City – that’s surely an exhausting thing. But also less so when you end up on the right side of the penalty shootout. Barcelona, for their part, must surely put their continental grievances to one side and win here to have any serious hope of retaining their title.


Football League game to watch: Leicester v West Brom
The sudden stutters and stumbles of the top three have added some late fun to the Championship promotion race, with Leicester having lost four of their last six yet neither Ipswich nor Leeds proving capable of taking full advantage.

What it’s done is allow Southampton to drag themselves back into the automatic promotion picture.

Saturday, though, presents Leicester with a significant opportunity if they can grasp it. With Leeds not in action until Monday night and Ipswich not playing at all this weekend due to scheduled opponents Coventry’s FA Cup exploits, Leicester’s Saturday lunchtime game with West Brom gives the Foxes an opportunity to lay down a marker.

West Brom for their part should be safe enough in the play-off places whatever happens at the King Power.

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