Following the FA Cup fourth-round action, we look at five things we learned from the weekend’s games.
Holders edge Spurs to lift North London curse
Manchester City’s record at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was well documented heading into this weekend’s fourth-round tie in North London, with the holders having lost on all five of their previous visits to the venue, without scoring.
Spurs had proven to be awkward opposition for Pep Guardiola’s mean, a rare kryptonite for the Premier League’s managerial Superman. City’s defence of last season’s treble remains on, however, after the FA Cup holders navigated a tricky test in the capital.
1 – Nathan Aké has ended Manchester City’s goal drought at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, scoring in the 88th minute of their sixth match at the ground against Spurs from their 102nd shot across those visits. Relief. pic.twitter.com/9zWCZzVdt4
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 26, 2024
There will be prettier performances from Guardiola’s men this season, but Nathan Ake’s goal, scrambled in after an error from Guglielmo Vicario, was enough to send the Citizens into the draw for the next round. The Dutch defender prodded in after Vicario failed to deal with a corner, breaking the club’s duck at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It was a deserved win for City, who dominated the game and nullified the threat of a Spurs side that was missing leading scorer (and regular City nemesis) Son Heung-min.
It’s seven straight wins in all competitions for the Citizens, who are beginning to build momentum.
Maidstone make history
What an occasion, what a story.
Maidstone United were given slim odds of continuing their fairytale cup campaign, one which had seen the sixth-tier side eliminate Football League opponents in Barrow and Stevenage to reach this stage. A trip to face Championship high-flyers Ipswich was deemed a bridge too far, but the magic of the FA Cup came alive at Portman Road as The Stones secured a smash-and-grab win.
The National League South side had just 22% of the possession and scored with their only attempts on goal in the 2-1 win, eliminating a side a staggering 98 places above them in the football pyramid.
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 28, 2024
A rotated Ipswich will be baffled as to how this game was lost, having hit the woodwork three times in the first half and fired 38 shots on goal. This, however, was a day for the underdog as goals from Lamar Reynolds and Sam Cornes handed Maidstone an unforgettable win.
Having eliminated teams from all three tiers of the Football League to reach round five, George Elokobi will take on Sheffield Wednesday or Coventry City next.
Brighton to bank Pedro profit?
Roberto De Zerbi has insisted that Joao Pedro can reach a ‘higher level’ at Brighton, an exciting scenario for the Seagulls but one that might lead to inevitable interest from wealthier clubs.
The Brazilian has been a big hit since signing from Watford in a club-record deal in the summer, continuing his fantastic debut campaign with a hat-trick in the FA Cup this weekend. The 22-year-old was outstanding as Brighton beat Sheffield United 5-2 at Bramall Lane, confidently converting from the spot twice, before rifling in a third to claim the match ball.
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 28, 2024
It’s now 18 goals in 30 appearances in all competitions for Pedro, who earned a maiden cap for Brazil in the autumn. His £30m fee set a new transfer record for Brighton and raised eyebrows in the summer, but it’s proven to be another masterstroke from a recruitment team who have barely missed in recent windows.
“I consider João Pedro a big, big potential player – my expectation is bigger than he is showing,” De Zerbi said at full-time. “He’s playing well, scoring a lot of goals but I think he can reach a higher level. I push for this because I work for Brighton – and for my players, to get better.”
If he continues on his current trajectory, Brighton could bank another seismic profit.
Ugly scenes spoil Black Country Derby
The Black Country Derby was among the pick of the ties for the fifth round, the first meeting between West Brom and Wolves in front of fans in over a decade. What should have been an occasion to savour was instead one of the sorry scenes, with the game paused for 38 minutes as trouble erupted in the stands.
An atmosphere that threatened to boil over from the start saw the Wolves fans set off a flare after Pedro Neto’s opener, while midfielder Tommy Doyle had a beer bottle thrown in his direction when taking a set piece. In the stands, violence exploded after Wolves scored a second goal, with distressing scenes of blood-soaked supporters being led away and increasing police presence in a bid to keep order.
“It’s really disappointing, anybody who wants to come and watch a football match should feel safe”
Gary O’Neil on the crowd trouble that caused disruption in Wolves’ 2-0 win over West Brom in the FA Cup 👇 pic.twitter.com/1ov1dv4WEA
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) January 28, 2024
Is this really where we are as football fans in England, in 2024? The scenes were reminiscent of an older age, where violence was prominent and security less so. Tribalism is a part of what makes football great, but not when it evolves into unsavoury scenes such as this.
Football fans, do better.
Klopp laying foundations for successor
Jurgen Klopp’s announcement that he will leave Liverpool rocked the Reds this week, with the German set to stand down at the end of the season. He will depart as Liverpool’s most successful manager of the Premier League era and as a club great, while there is the prospect of more to come as his team compete for four trophies this season.
Liverpool booked their place in the FA Cup’s fifth round with a 5-2 win over Norwich this weekend, a fixture which saw Klopp trust his side’s homegrown talent. Curtis Jones opened the scoring and is enjoying the best football of his first-team career, Jarell Quansah plays with a maturity far beyond his years, and Conor Bradley produced another strong showing with two assists from right-back.
An assist on his full Reds debut for James McConnell 👏🔴 pic.twitter.com/rNVdga2AH0
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 28, 2024
Bradley has taken his chance in the side in recent weeks, while fellow academy product James McConnell made an impression on his first start in central midfield. The teenager was assured in possession and created the opening goal for Jones with a perfect cross, in another outstanding afternoon for the academy.
Whoever inherits this team from Klopp will take over a side already well-placed to challenge for trophies, but with a budding academy and core of young talent to develop. It will be a difficult proposal for any ambitious coach to turn down.