FOX Soccer Exclusive
Crowd violence mars FA Cup semis
This is the business end of the season and we are hurtling along into what promises to be a superb final six weeks of football. We saw a great FA Cup semifinal this weekend; I expect us to have some superb games in two weeks in the Champions League, and I am thrilled that we’re going to be able to present some really fantastic matchups in the league over the next few weeks as well.
Let me start and just say well done to Manchester City and Wigan this weekend. I thought both teams, in both games, were by far the better side, and I think their wins over Chelsea and Millwall will spur both sides on.
The league title race is over, we know that, but City can collect a trophy and use that as a foundation to build on for next season. For once, City came out flying from the start, and I think fans will be right to ask where that’s been most of this year. Yaya Toure was just magnificent, and for my money, he’s one of the best in the league. Where City would be without him is not something Roberto Mancini wants to think about.
But I also have to question some of Rafa Benitez’ choices. When he put on Fernando Torres late, his team was transformed. Why didn’t he start him? And why was Frank Lampard left on the bench? Late in the game, that’s a man you want out there when you are putting balls into the box. He’s a big-game player who makes things happen, and I don’t understand him not even getting a run-out. Benitez didn’t blame fatigue – even though his team have now played 61 games – but it was a factor. They are going to have to dig deep to get through the remainder of the season.
We also have to address the ugly scenes we saw at Wembley on Saturday. Let’s be clear: the people fighting in the stands were not football fans. They are criminals and I am glad the police and Millwall have both come out very quickly to apprehend these people. Millwall have made great strides in shedding what we all know has been a bad reputation, and I think the club deserves some sympathy as well.
I think some people mistake that sort of thing for passion – it’s not. It’s criminal, and it has no place in the sport at all. If you want to see passion, than look no further than Sunderland, where Paolo Di Canio has already made a big impact. I would have rather it not come at the hands of my old team Newcastle, but we saw two really special goals from the Black Cats and a deserved win.
But again – we see crowd trouble outside St. James. It’s so disappointing. I was involved in the Landsdowne Road game between England and Ireland -- it was abandoned – and I just had hoped we’d put all this behind us. The club, the players and the true fans had a memorable day ruined.
On a happier note, we have to credit United and it was good to see Robin van Persie break his drought at the spot. Van Persie has been one of my players of the year, and though he went off the boil, United would not be where they are if not for his goals at the start of the season. Did you pay attention to his celebration? Scoring a penalty against Stoke should be routine – but the way he celebrated revealed to all of us the pressure and the emotion for that young man. Just because we all think the title is wrapped up, van Persie reminds us that it’s not, and how much scoring means to him and the team.
Another big winner this weekend was Arsenal, who seized their chance this weekend to pile some pressure on Tottenham and Chelsea. Give them credit for getting the win even though they didn’t play very well. I want to focus on one moment in that game, and that’s the penalty. I know Chris Hughton is upset over the call but as I said on Saturday’s telecast, the damage was compounded by their reaction.
Whatever your view on the penalty – I thought it was correct, no matter who called it -- as a player, you have to be responsible for controlling your emotions and giving yourself the best chance to win a game. Wasting your energy on arguing about it only hurts your team more. Pick yourself up and get on with the game. Norwich didn’t. They got rattled, and that cost them.
At the other end of the table, Reading got a superb show out of Alex McCarthy to further dent Liverpool’s European hopes. The young keeper was brilliant, but I have to also point out that Liverpool were wasteful. This is a team that still depends too much of Luis Suarez for goals and they have to address that in the off-season. It will have stung them to see Everton leap past QPR – right down with Reading — and into contention for a European place.
Do join us on Tuesday afternoon for a Premier League special (live FOX Soccer. 2:30 p.m. ET) when Arsenal take on Everton. That’s a massive game for both clubs, and you do not want to miss it. And remember, you can follow me on Twitter at @warrenbarton2, and ask a question at any time to @FOXSoccer by using the #heywarren hashtag. I love hearing from you guys and all the banter – so do keep it coming!