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FA Cup fourth round: Five things we learned

Following the FA Cup’s fourth-round action we look at five things we learned from the weekend fixtures.

First blood to Manchester City

Manchester City’s clash with Arsenal headlined the FA Cup’s fourth round, as the best two teams in the Premier League went head-to-head at the Etihad.

Arsenal are the Premier League leaders after exceeding all expectations this season, with the Gunners – bolstered by the summer signings of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus from City – five points clear of the defending champions with a game in hand.

Mikel Arteta made six changes from the team that beat Manchester United last weekend in an indication of where the Gunners’ focus is, while Pep Guardiola opted for less rotation as he sought to gain a psychological edge and see City into the fifth round for an eighth straight season.

Arteta sprang a surprise on his former mentor as Arsenal went for a man-marking approach and the north Londoners were the better side across the opening exchanges – Leandro Trossard impressive on his full debut – before City fought back after the break.

Nathan Ake decided the game with a well-taken winner, as City drew first blood in the first of three head-to-head games which could define each side’s season. The two teams are yet to meet in the Premier League this season, with their first face-off at the Emirates on February 15.

Their FA Cup dress rehearsal offered useful sparring for both sides and a first chance for City to witness Arsenal’s progress up close. It is a contest that both can take encouragement from ahead of the crunch clashes to come.

Casemiro is irreplaceable to Manchester United

Manchester United marched into the fifth round after a dominant win over Reading, a win which saw Casemiro underline his irreplaceable status at Old Trafford.

Casemiro was brought in last summer to provide the presence that has long lacked in the Manchester United midfield, but has brought a level of class to match his competitive edge. A five-time winner of the Champions League, English football knew Casemiro was good. Whether most knew he was this complete is an entirely different debate.

The 30-year-old spent much of the last decade bringing the bite alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modric at Real Madrid. Given the presence of those two alongside him, a more supplementary status than the one he has enjoyed in Manchester can be understood.

Since making the move to the Premier League the shackles have been removed. Against Reading he was everywhere, marauding forward at one end and stopping attacks at the other. Casemiro scored twice to set the Red Devils on their way to a win, first racing forward onto Antony’s pass to dink a finish over Joe Lumley, before arcing home a precise finish from distance for a spectacular second.

“I expected [Casemiro to be this good] because when you see his profile, if you see his performances in the last years for Real Madrid it is magnificent,” Erik ten Hag said on the midfielder.

“He plays at such a high level, he won four or five Champions Leagues, it is the highest trophy you can win in club football. He had such a massive impact. I think he was the first one who was always in the starting 11 for every manager at Real Madrid. You will understand he will also have that impact in England football.”

Liverpool falter once more

Jurgen Klopp insisted that Liverpool will ‘not fall apart’ following their late loss at Brighton this weekend, but the Reds’ season is already approaching irreparable damage.

Just two weeks after watching his side capitulate at the same venue, Klopp endured another painful defeat at the Amex Stadium as Kaoru Mitoma’s stoppage-time goal ended the holder’s FA Cup defence.

In what had been an entertaining cup contest, Liverpool had their chances, but were hanging on in the closing stages with Fabinho, Ibrahima Konate and Andy Robertson all fortunate to escape red cards as crude challenges sought to halt the Seagulls’ momentum.

Mitoma’s magical moment settled the contest late on and leaves Liverpool staring down the barrel. Klopp’s side are out of both cup competitions, ninth in the Premier League table, and face a last-16 tie with European champions Real Madrid in the Champions League next month. On current form, the Reds will begin that tie as big underdogs.

Brighton were brilliant in their 3-0 win over Liverpool earlier this month, but even below their best managed to overcome Klopp’s confidence-ridden team this weekend. It was a ninth defeat of the season in all competitions for Liverpool, more than twice as many as in the entire 2021/22 season (4). There’s still four months of the campaign remaining and few recent signs that Liverpool are capable of salvaging something.

Bamford return will boost Leeds

Patrick Bamford marked his return to the starting side with two assists in Leeds’ 3-1 win at Accrington Stanley this weekend, in a performance that saw Jesse Marsch state his belief that Bamford is closing in on his best form.

Bamford has had a torrid time since a spectacular first season in the Premier League with Leeds, one which saw the forward score 17 league goals and made his England debut.

The 29-year-old has started just 11 league games across the last 18 months as injuries have kept him sidelined, but has shown encouraging signs in recent weeks. Bamford has come off the bench in each of Leeds’ last three games, scoring three goals, before making his first start since October against Accrington.

Captaining the side, he was crucial to their success and created two goals – including a wonderful assist for Junior Firpo – as Leeds reached the fifth round for the first time since 2015/16.

He combined well with Georginio Rutter as the club-record signing made a lively debut and could prove crucial as Leeds look to remain clear of the drop zone this season. Jesse Marsch’s side are 15th, but just three points Southampton at the bottom of the table.

Diallo to earn chance next season?

Amad Diallo was sent on loan this season to continue his development with the Manchester United winger having failed to make his mark at Old Trafford since his £37 million move from Atalanta.

Sunderland have proven a fine fit for the 20-year-old, who has scored seven goals in 14 league starts in the Championship this season. This weekend Diallo looked every inch a Premier League player as he took the game to Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Diallo was the bright spark in an entertaining game, as Sunderland held their top-flight opponents to a draw. He picked up possession in advanced areas and invited challenges, skipping past tackles and linking well with his teammates in an impressive performance from Tony Mowbray’s men.

Embed from Getty Images

Diallo’s end product was missing on occasion in west London, but the foundations are there for the winger to earn a chance next season. With Antony enduring a mixed debut campaign and Jadon Sancho still working on finding his best form, an opportunity could await upon his return.

“I have worked with lots of talented players over the years and Amad is right up there,” Sunderland manager Mowbray said on the loanee.

“The issue is that Manchester United is his parent club and you have to be very, very special to break through there. Talent-wise it’s not a problem, he is exceptional. It’s about his mentality. If he believes he is good enough to play alongside Bruno Fernandes and all those world-class players there, then he has got every chance. His talent won’t let him down.

“He can dance past people and has showed recently that he can score goals. He needed to break through that barrier of being the man who steps inside and shoots. He has a wand of a left foot. When he first came he was stepping inside and checking all the time and wouldn’t shoot. He looks an amazing player to me but United will have to look at him in the summer.”

Read – FA Cup Fourth Round – Team of the Week

Read Also – Masters: Six of the greatest free-kick takers of all time

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