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FA Cup

Shrewsbury Town 0-0 West Ham: Three talking points from Montgomery Waters Meadow

Jake Jackman

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West Ham

West Ham United were fortunate to escape from a tricky away match against Shrewsbury Town with the tie still alive and heading for a replay. David Moyes made several changes, but the team that he put out was a strong one with a number of regular starters being selected to play. It was surprising that the visitors created so few chances and looked lacklustre throughout, especially in the attacking half.

Although the Premier League opposition didn’t play well, that shouldn’t discredit the performance from Shrewsbury. The League One side were excellent and looked the more likely winners on the day. It will be tough for them to go to the London Stadium and get through to the next round, but it will be a great spectacle and a good money earner for the club. Here are three talking points from Montgomery Waters Meadow:

Javier Hernandez at West Ham hasn’t worked

It has been a difficult season for Javier Hernandez after returning to the Premier League and he didn’t take his opportunity in the FA Cup. The Mexican international has not featured as much as he would have liked for the Hammers and it has completely destroyed his confidence. He didn’t look like he wanted to have the ball on Sunday and when he did, his decision making wasn’t great.

For a player that is renowned for his intelligent movement and predatory instincts, Hernandez was easily dealt with by a League One defence. He didn’t have any attempts on goal and ended the match with a pass success rate of 50%. Considering he has played for two of the biggest clubs in the world, he should have had a much bigger impact on the game.

The next month is going to be interesting to see what business West Ham will do in the transfer market, as they have yet to find a striker to rely on. It was hoped that Hernandez would be that player, but he has yet to live up to his billing. If the club do manage to sign a new striker, it could be that the Mexican pushes for a move away. It hasn’t worked for either party and a transfer away could be what is needed to reinvigorate his career.

Shrewsbury are a team full of confidence

The Shropshire team are currently in the promotion places in League One and could be set for promotion to the Championship if they continue in their current vein of form. This tie had the potential to destroy the confidence in the squad, but they approached it with no fear and they ended this match with the nation’s respect.

They can take the confidence gained from this performance and go back into the league campaign as a better team. West Ham may have been bad, but the performance of Shrewsbury had a major impact on that. Their midfielders dominated the central areas and their defence coped with two international forwards with relative comfort.

The player to catch the eye for the home side was Ben Godfrey. The midfielder is currently on loan from Norwich City and he got the better of Pedro Obiang and Cheikhou Kouyate in the middle of the park. Shrewsbury have been willing to give chances to young players and it would be a great story if they were to make one more step up the ladder to reach the Championship. Based on this performance, it would take a brave man to bet against them.

Declan Rice impressed again

There were few positives for West Ham as they escaped Shropshire still in the FA Cup, but the performance of Declan Rice was one of them. The teenager has had a surprising rise over the course of this season and he is now performing like an established Premier League player. He was the team’s best player against Tottenham during the week and he backed that up with another good display against lower league opposition.

It would have been easy for a young player to buy into his own hype and fallen short on Sunday, but he approached the game in the same manner. His attitude is to be commended and he is establishing himself as an important first team player for the Hammers.

During the match, he showed a willingness to battle with the Shrewsbury players and dug in deep. Rice won five aerial duels, completed two tackles and made a further six interceptions. It was an excellent performance from a teenager and it was needed as the home side were putting West Ham’s defence under pressure.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton 2-1 Crystal Palace: Three talking points from the Amex Stadium

Jake Jackman

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Brighton

Brighton and Hove Albion reached the fourth round of the FA Cup after beating rivals Crystal Palace at the Amex Stadium on Monday night. This game was the first that used video assistant referee (VAR) technology, but it wasn’t used by Andre Marriner. It was a hard-fought contest, despite lacking the bite in the tackle that you would expect from a derby match. There was only one yellow card dished out in the game.

It was a great win for Brighton and they can take a lot of momentum from this match, as they enter a period of winnable league fixtures. Both sides made changes, but the home side were the better on the night, as they had 18 attempts to Palace’s five. The Seagulls will now face a difficult trip to Middlesbrough in the next round, but a cup run is a real possibility if they maintain this level of performance. Here are three talking points from the match:

Brighton need a new striker

They may have got the victory in the end, but the home side didn’t look very convincing in front of goal and that is a concern as they are in the midst of a relegation battle. Glenn Murray is a decent player and one that can contribute as he showed on Monday when he popped up with the winner. However, he can’t be relied on as the main source of goals.

Brighton have shown more goal threat during the last two matches and four goals from them is a good return. However, they had failed to score in five of their previous six matches. They were impressive against Palace and created chances for the frontmen, but the poor finishing remained a consistent theme.

Although Murray may be able to contribute in the Premier League, the other strikers in the squad have failed to impress. Sam Baldock looked like a player that was out of his depth, while Tomer Hemed is predictable to play against. If the Seagulls are to survive with comfort, they are going to need an injection of quality in their forward line.

Palace lacked a threat without Zaha

The FA Cup isn’t what it used to be and it was disappointing to see Roy Hodgson make as many changes as he did. The team may be in a relegation battle, but they have a talented squad and a cup run was well within their capabilities. Wilfried Zaha was one of those to miss out and it was obvious that Palace were not as threatening without him.

The winger has found consistency in the Palace team and regularly manages to influence matches, even when the rest of the side are playing poorly. His pace and trickery make him difficult to defend against, while his presence can open up space for other attackers in the team.

At the start of the season, Palace really struggled without Zaha and started the season in terrible form, losing their first seven matches without scoring a goal. It was talked about then how much the side missed their star winger and a reminder was given on Monday. Andros Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt both struggled to cause problems for the Brighton defence. If anything was to happen to Zaha, it could be a knockout blow for Roy Hodgson.

Beram Kayal played himself into Premier League contention

Beram Kayal used to be one of the key players for Brighton, but he may have played himself back into contention with a man-of-the-match performance against Crystal Palace. There had been doubts regarding the Israeli international’s ability to perform in the top-flight, but he delivered a complete display and stood out in both halves of the pitch.

Defensively, Kayal got stuck in and dominated the midfield areas. Brighton had a physical midfield picked as they paired the 29-year-old with Dale Stephens and it was a great selection from Chris Hughton and one that helped them win the tie. The midfielder completed all six of his tackles and made a further one interception. He was combative and willing to get in the faces of the Palace midfielders, which was important in a game such as this one.

Although it was his ball-winning ability that stood out, Kayal was very intelligent on the ball and rarely took needless risks when he had possession. He completed three dribbles and was vital in transition. His ability to carry the ball started several Brighton attacks and was an effective distributor, as shown by his pass success rate of 94%. Three key passes during the match show that he can be creative as well as combative. This performance should lead to him adding to his three Premier League appearances this season.

 

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Chelsea

Norwich City 0-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from Carrow Road

Jake Jackman

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Chelsea

Chelsea will have to rely on a replay after failing to beat Norwich City at Carrow Road. It was a very poor performance from a much-changed Premier League side and they will have to be a lot better if they are to qualify for the fourth round. Despite the changes, the team was filled with internationals and they should have had enough to beat their Championship opposition. Antonio Conte forced himself into a corner as he had Alvaro Morata on the bench alongside a selection of young talent.

The home side may regret their poor final product in this match, as they did have chances against an unconvincing Chelsea defence. Josh Murphy cause problems with his pace, while James Maddison and Alex Pritchard showed why they are highly-rated in the second tier. The replay at Stamford Bridge will be a good occasion for the club and serve as a reminder of their aim to return to the top-flight. Here are three talking points from Carrow Road:

David Luiz doesn’t look like he wants to be at Chelsea

The centre-back returned back to the club last summer and received a great reaction from the supporters when the singing was announced. He has always had a good relationship with them since his first spell with the club and there was hope that Antonio Conte would bring the best out of him.

Last season, the Brazilian was central to the team’s title win and he looked like he was finally calming down, but the mood has switched this season. There appears to have been a breakdown in trust between the manager and the player, which was shown in this match. David Luiz lost focus on a few occasions and made mistakes that nearly led to goals.

He also received a needless booking for an overzealous challenge. If he was wanting to play himself back into Conte’s plans, he went about it in the wrong way. The Chelsea boss will want to sell him during this window if he can.

Angus Gunn is a huge talent

The Norwich City goalkeeper delivered an assured performance against Chelsea and will be delighted with the clean sheet. He has been one of the better goalkeepers in the Championship this season and this display brought him to the attention of the wider British footballing public. The Canaries won’t want to lose him for a long time, but it is obvious that he has the potential to play at a higher level.

During the match, he made an impressive seven saves to ensure his side earned a replay. Although Chelsea didn’t play well, the goalkeeper was still required on several occasions and everything he was asked to do was completed with style. Gunn showed good control of his area and regularly came off his line to relieve pressure on his team-mates. This is the mark of a confident goalkeeper and he will have gained a lot from this cup tie.

His distribution wasn’t as effective as the rest of his game, but he is only 21 and he has time to develop that side of his game. It would be unfair to be overly critical of it as he was asked to play long balls to try and release the pace that Norwich had in attack. There were a few very good performances from the home side, but Gunn’s was the pick of the bunch.

Chelsea are reliant on a few individuals

It wasn’t the right that was worrying for Antonio Conte, but the complete lack of ideas from those on the pitch. Willian showed good endeavour and tried to make things happen, but there was nobody else capable of supporting him. As the game developed, it was obvious that the Blues were missing Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante. Without those three players, this team looked very ordinary.

Tieumoue Bakayoko was a particular disappointment as he continued his tough start in a Chelsea shirt. The midfielder was viewed as a replacement for Nemanja Matic, but he has yet to convince supporters that he is good enough to be a starter for the club. He dithered on the ball and was regularly caught on it by the alert Norwich players.

The next month is going to be crucial for Chelsea, as it is clear this squad needs an injection of quality. Ross Barkley has already arrived and he will be able to add something different to the squad, as he can create from deep. It could be that he is viewed as another option in the centre of the park to partner N’Golo Kante. Given time, he could develop into a very good player for the Blues, but further additions are needed.

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FA Cup

Newcastle United 3-1 Luton Town – Three talking points from St James’ Park

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle

Newcastle United made it to the FA Cup third round with a 3-1 win at home to Luton Town. On the evidence of the first-half, it looked to be a straightforward win for the Premier League side, as they scored three goals and had chances for more. However, the League Two leaders fought back in the second-half and got a goal back through Danny Hylton. They continued to press and caused the home side a lot of problems as the game developed.

Rafa Benitez will be delighted that his team have maintained the positive momentum build up over the Christmas period and they will now go into next weekend’s huge game against Swansea City with confidence that they can win the game. There were nervy moments in the second-half, but the game was won by that point and it may have been a case of the players taking their foot off the gas. Luton can return home with credit and re-focus on earning promotion to League One. Here are three talking points from St James’ Park:

Newcastle need a takeover if they are to challenge for the cups

The Magpies qualified from their tie against Luton Town and made it successive FA Cup third round victories for the first time under Mike Ashley’s ownership. The Sports Direct tycoon has been in power at St James’ Park for over ten years and has made it clear during that time that the cup competitions aren’t a priority. Although there is now more respect paid to them with Rafa Benitez as manager, they are far from being serious contenders to win one.

There have been few pundits mentioning Newcastle as potential winners of the FA Cup this season and that is a huge shame for a team that should be desperate to end their long run without a major trophy. There were over 47,000 supporters at a game against a League Two side, which underlines how much the fans value a cup run, but the view isn’t shared in the board room.

The takeover speculation continues and is likely to run for the first few months of 2018. There is nothing in the pipeline imminently and the club are in a state of flux right now. The current owner no longer has any interest and the manager has no clue what the aims of the club are as a result. Newcastle need a takeover to happen as soon as possible and if one does happen, supporters will be hopeful of challenging for the cups in future seasons.

Luton Town are ready to move back up the Football League

This was always going to be a difficult tie for the League Two leaders, but it served as a good litmus test of where they currently are as a club. They have ambition to move back up the Football League and Saturday showed that there a lot of potential for growth. The Hatters took over 7,000 fans to the North East in one of the largest away followings to St James’ Park in recent seasons.

That can partly be explained by the cup tie, but it also shows that the supporters are buying into what the club are building. They have one of the highest-scoring teams in the country and they went to Newcastle with the belief that they could get something from the game. The first-half was a footballing lesson for them, but they showed fight in the second-half and they deserve credit for that.

It would have been easy for the players to have given up or shied away after going in at half-time 3-0 down, but these Luton players were determined to give their Premier League hosts a scare. They deserved a goal for their efforts and that came shortly after the break. The 3-1 final result suggests that it was a straightforward win for the Premier League team, but it was far from that.

Jamaal Lascelles went off injured

The player that Rafa Benitez would have been desperate to stay fit for the rest of the campaign was Jamaal Lascelles, as his importance became evident during his absence earlier in the season. Newcastle went off the rails without their club captain and their defence started to leak goals on a regular basis. Since his return, they have picked up two wins in the Premier League and climbed back out of the relegation zone.

It was a risk for Benitez to play a near full-strength team after a long festive period and it could be a decision that he lives to regret as Lascelles was forced off with an injury in the first-half. It may have been a precautionary measure, but he wasn’t moving well on the pitch and showed visual signs of pain on his face.

Newcastle have a huge home match against Swansea City next weekend and they will be desperate for their skipper to be fit to start. If he isn’t and faces another period on the sidelines, Benitez will be fearful of his side slipping back into the relegation zone as they seemed incapable of picking up points without Lascelles.

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