We look ahead to Liverpool v Roma, discuss Alexis Sanchez’s Man Utd turnaround and why Tottenham have a soft centre, plus look at the contenders to replace Arsene Wenger – all in Monday Verdict.
SPURS HAVE WINNERS – BUT TOO SOFT A CENTRE
What a huge shame for Spurs.
The build-up to their semi-final against Manchester United had seen manager Mauricio Pochettino underplay the importance of both reaching the FA Cup final or even winning it. He went as far to say a Cup win “wouldn’t change the club”. That was the message in public, anyway, but deep down, however, he’d have badly wanted cup glory for his side and to shake off that unwanted tag of ‘talented side; won nothing’.
Fist pumps on the sidelines and other Jurgen Klopp-esque theatricals are an unusual sight for Pochettino, a manager who normally offers little reaction to his side scoring… so when Dele Alli fired Tottenham into an 11th-minute lead, it was clear for all to see what victory would have meant to his side.
The Spurs boss went big, but then so too did Alli…jubilant celebrations that were soon to come back and bite them on the behind.
While Pochettino has transformed Spurs into one of the most exciting sides in English football, leading them to third and second in the previous two Premier League campaigns, silverware continues to evade their talent-filled side.
The FA Cup could have seen Spurs end their long trophy wait and the early lead Alli gave them – courtesy of another sexy assist from Christian Eriksen – handed them the perfect chance.
Yet Tottenham, who have had ‘mental-strength’ allegations levelled against them before, crumbled when it mattered most. They even offered little signs they could claw their way back into the match once Ander Herrera had struck what proved to be the winner just after the hour-mark for United.
The result will do little to disprove claims they have a soft centre too.
Assessing the wreckage of the defeat was goalkeeper Michel Vorm, selected ahead of Hugo Lloris for the Wembley showdown.
“We are close but so far away,” he said.
“I think if you see in the dressing room now, it’s a mess. And it sounds a bit cliched maybe, but we need to learn from this as well and I still believe that there’s so much more to come for us, you know? It just takes time.
“At the moment, it’s hard to believe but we need to keep on going, keep on pushing, working and learning from these kinds of games. Because at the end it’s about reaching these finals and trying to win something. I definitely believe that we can do better than this with this group.”
That ‘time’ Vorm alludes to may yet escape them. It’d be a tragic shame, but just how long can Pochettino keep the likes of Harry Kane, Alli and Eriksen happy while trophy success continues to elude them.
An 11-year trophy drought yes, but the cost of failure could yet prove more expensive for Spurs….
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A TURNING POINT FOR ALEXIS?
After a really slow start to life at Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez finally announced himself as the big-game player the club were hoping for when they lured him north from Arsenal.
His first 10 games had yielded little joy for the Chilean as he struggled to adapt to his surroundings, with plenty of stats – probably emanating from both ‘ABUs’, Arsenal fans or those simply bitter at his £500,000 a week wages – highlighting his woes.
In his first 10 matches for United, Sanchez scored just once and assisted two goals.
Alexis Sanchez's Premier League stats for Man Utd…
Minutes played: 441
Total shots: 10
Shot accuracy: 86%
Chances created: 7
Dribbles success: 70%
Passing accuracy: 72%
Possession lost: 144 pic.twitter.com/dIduKbNMjg
— Ladbrokes (@Ladbrokes) March 10, 2018
Over the last four matches, there are some tell-tale signs that he’s beginning to find his feet, after he netted twice and added three more assists, taking his overall tally to…
Or in other terms, he’s been involved in a goal every 1.75 matches – not all that bad for a player feeling his way into a new club, with new methods….
If there were any doubters still over Sanchez going into Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Spurs, the Chilean produced easily his best performance in a United shirt.
Not only did he hustle and harry his opponents, he also backed up his work-rate with a goal and an assist, showing himself capable of making it at United and continuing his love affair with the FA Cup and the home of English football.
8 – Alexis Sanchez has scored eight goals in his eight appearances at Wembley Stadium for club and country, including four in three #FACup semi-finals. Menace.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 21, 2018
There’s no doubting the player clearly enjoys himself at Wembley, with his latest strike adding to an already impressive record at the famous old stadium.
It’s been kind to him before and laid witness to what many will feel is a turning point in his United career. What price another goal in next month’s showpiece?
SPEAKING OF PLAYERS WHO HAVE TURNED THINGS AROUND….
I don’t want to say ‘what a player Marko Arnautovic has become’ for West Ham, because the Austrian always had it in him and was regularly Stoke’s best player during his time in the Potteries.
But after struggling to make the adjustment at West Ham and no doubt leading many to question the wisdom in splashing out a £25million fee, the former Werder Bremen man has been West Ham’s outstanding performer in the second half of the season.
It’s also a bit of a feather in the cap for David Moyes, given Arnautovic didn’t have a single goal to his credit after 13 games.
Now the Austrian has 10 in his last 16 games – his latest against Arsenal on Sunday a real thunderb****** which left David Ospina helpess.
His performances and goals are as fundamental as any other factor in ensuring West Ham’s survival this season and if West Ham can get a few more players of that kind of quality around him next season, there’ll be hope of a brighter campaign next time around.
PLEASE LET’S NOT UNDERESTIMATE ROMA
There’s a general consensus in the English media that Roma will be simply there to make up the numbers against Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals.
The two sides lock horns at Anfield in the first leg this week and it’s assumed by quite a few that Liverpool’s place in the final is already assured.
The Italians go into the match as the underdogs and they arguably represent the easiest of the three semi-final opponents they could have faced…
However, cliched as it sounds, there are absolutely no easy games at this stage of the competition and Roma cannot be underestimated having dispatched of Barcelona in the quarter-finals.
In Radja Nainggolan, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Alisson Becker, Roma have players the envy of Europe’s best. In Daniele De Rossi, Edin Dzeko, Kostas Manolas and Kevin Strootman they also have players with the know-how and experience.
The fact that Liverpool go into the game as favourites could maybe even work against them too….
Don’t get us wrong, we’ve loved watching Klopp’s side this season, and especially in the Champions League, and we’re right behind them going all the way in Europe this season.
But while Liverpool will be fully focused on the job in hand, it’s important they approach the match with the correct attitude and the desire they showed in both quarter-final legs against Manchester City.
They do that and they should have enough to reach the final in Kiev next month.
Fail to do that, and the Italians could easily deal Liverpool an unwelcome and untimely kick in the proverbials.
SIX CONTENDERS TO REPLACE WENGER
Arsenal are seeking a new manager for the first time in over 20 years after Arsene Wenger announced on Friday that he would step down at the end of the season.
His long goodbye started with a thumping 4-1 win against West Ham on Sunday, but thoughts are already turning to whom his successor may be….
Here, we take at look at six contenders to replace the Frenchman at Emirates Stadium….
The former Barcelona boss remains without a club despite leaving Barcelona almost 12 months ago.
During his three years in charge at the Nou Camp, he led the club to two La Liga titles, three Copa del Reys, the Champions League trophy, the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.
At 47, it’s easy to see why Enrique is a man in demand and he’s sure to be at the top of Arsenal’s thinking given the football played by and success enjoyed by his Barca predcessor Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
The 44-year-old German is one of the most highly-rated coaches in Europe, regarded as a brilliant tactician, despite having won just one major trophy, the DFB-Pokal with Borussia Dortmund last season.
Tuchel, who made his name at Mainz, has been without a club since leaving Dortmund after two years last summer after falling out with club bosses. There are stumbling blocks, though, notably his reported feud with Sven Mislintat, the head of recruitment Arsenal appointed from Dortmund last November. Paris Saint-Germain are also said to be closing in on Tuchel.
The unsung Italian has been in charge of Juventus since 2014 and has guided the Turin giants to three Serie A titles and two Champions League finals.
The 50-year-old has never managed outside his home country and there is no suggestion Juve are looking to make a change in the dug-out, but Allegri could be tempted by a new challenge in the Premier League.
The 58-year-old is a serial winner, having won league titles in four different countries and the Champions League with AC Milan and Real Madrid. He is out of work, having left his post as Bayern Munich coach in September, and is familiar with the Premier League from his two-year spell at Chelsea from 2009-2011.
The suave 58-year-old has established Germany as a leading force in international football, guiding them to World Cup glory in Brazil in 2014 as well as at least the semi-finals of four other major tournaments. He has been in the role for 12 years, so could be tempted by a change after this summer’s World Cup in Russia, although the Gunners might be put off by his lack of top club-level success.
The appointment of the former Arsenal midfielder would be a hugely popular one with fans. The 41-year-old was one of Wenger‘s first signings in 1996 and went on to become regarded as one of the club’s greatest ever players, winning three league titles and three FA Cups in a nine-year spell.
He has been in charge of Major League Soccer side New York City FC since 2016.
ARSENE WENGER’S ARSENAL REIGN IN NUMBERS
With Wenger stepping aside in the summer, it’s important not to forget the success the Frenchman has enjoyed in north London..
Here, we take a look back at the Frenchman’s reign in numbers:
1996 – the year when a then-unheralded Wenger, who had been in charge at Monaco and Japanese side Nagoya Grampus Eight, took over at Highbury.
1229 – games at the helm, following Sunday’s Premier League fixture against West Ham.
704 – wins to date as Arsenal boss.
3 – Premier League title wins, the last during an unbeaten Invincibles campaign of 2003/2004.
1552 – goals scored in Premier League matches by Wenger‘s teams.
10 – major trophies won.
474 – Premier League victories.
7 – FA Cup triumphs, with three of those having come the last four seasons.
151 – Premier League losses.
21 – full seasons in charge.
49 – games unbeaten in the Premier League from May 2003 to October 2004.
An astonishing reign, and one we’re unlikely to see repeated….