1) City are right back in the title race
After Man City lost to Chelsea a couple of weeks ago –- their first home loss at the season in which they were totally outplayed –- there were plenty questioning whether City had the ability to win their second Premier League crown. Manuel Pellegrini was branded as tactically naïve and all of a sudden this expensively assembled City side were being regarded as outsiders.
This sort of talk was, of course, naïve, but it was still somewhat surprising to see City win their FA Cup against Jose Mourinho’s side with such consummate ease. City simply dominated Chelsea on Saturday, and their ability to convert their dominance into goals will no doubt give them renewed confidence ahead of their clash with Bayern Munich. More importantly, though, the manner of the win perfectly illustrated why Pellegrini’s side should still be considered as very serious title contenders.
2) Mourinho lost the tactical battle
If Chelsea’s win at the Etihad two weeks ago represented a massive tactical victory for Mourinho over Pellegrini, then this FA Cup clash represented the precise opposite.
Chelsea’s counter attacking game was absolutely key on the third of February, but Pellegrini has clearly learnt from that game, choosing to deploy James Milner in order to shackle the considerable and explosive talents of Eden Hazard. Milner’s spoiling prohibited City from operating those swift transitions from defence to attack that proved so effective in their league clash by providing City with some much needed steel in front of the back four.
It’s not often said of Mourinho, but his team rather failed to adapt to this, and the way that City mixed up their game rather prevented Chelsea from playing their usual counter attacking style. Pellegrini has learnt from his mistakes, and Mourinho’s error was in not anticipating this.
3) Arsene has learnt his lesson too …
Talking of learning lessons, Arsene Wenger showed that you can most definitely teach an old dog new tricks as his side vanquished Liverpool at the Emirates. Last week’s clash between these two sides ended in acute embarrassment for Wenger as they were slammed 5-1 away from home, but this 2-1 victory was the exact opposite of that abberation at Anfield.
One of the key differences between the Arsenal of this season and last has been the quite clear decrease in possession that they have enjoyed. In previous seasons, the Gunners would quite often have 60+% of the ball but fail to convert their chances, with Wenger eventually billing this practice ‘sterile domination’. This season, though, his side have relied upon far less possession, biding their time without the ball and attempting to use the ball very quickly when they managed to affect a turnover in possession. This tactic went awry last week, with the Gunners enjoying 57% of possession but still conceding five goals. This week, though, it was back to business as usual for Arsenal, with Liverpool having the lion’s share of possession and being picked off by a weakened Arsenal side.
4) Liverpool now have all their eggs in one basket
Following their demolition of Arsenal last week, there were plenty of pundits suggesting that Brendan Rodgers’ side should not be discounted from the title race. I still maintain that expecting a genuine title challenge is somewhat premature, but in terms of league aims, their FA Cup exit could be seen as something of a blessing in disguise.
Unlike every other title challenger, Liverpool now only have the league to concentrate on, and it is crucial that Rodgers’ side make the most of the fact that City, Chelsea and Arsenal all have more games to play. First and foremost, Liverpool must ensure that they finish in the top four, as after their season so far, anything less would be abject failure. Now possessing the freedom to concentrate solely on the league, if they fail to qualify for the Champions League from this position serious question marks would quite rightly be levelled at the Reds.
5) It turns out Arsenal might have unexpected depth
As I alluded to earlier in this piece, Arsene Wenger made the rather bold decision to field a weakened team on Sunday, and his side’s victory most certainly vindicated that decision. With at least four changes from his ‘regular’ side, Wenger highlighted the fact that his side can still win games against the best teams without playing his first 11.
This is perhaps most crucial when considered along with the criticisms most regularly levelled at the Gunners. There are many (myself included) who feel that Wenger’s squad is short on world-class talent and that the lack of adequate options at his disposal leads him to overplaying his best players. On Sunday Wenger showed that his squad does perhaps have more depth than many think, and the depth of his squad will almost certainly be a crucial factor when it comes down to deciding whether or not they win the Premier League for the first time since 2004.