After the midweek instalment of the Premier League and amid more or less blatant verbal wars between some senior managerial figures – spoiler alert, they both reside in London – the FA Cup briefly took centre stage yet again.
So, what have we learnt from the fifth round?
1) Nobody really cares about the FA Cup anymore
It’s been suspected for years now, but this weekend proved further confirmation that, despite the titanic PR campaigns behind it, the stereotypes about Wembley and the “magic of the cup”, nobody really cares about the FA Cup anymore.
Not outside the Premier League, where most clubs opt to prioritise a league campaign that, in the best case scenario, measures 46 games, and clearly not in the top-flight, where teams simply look uninterested.
Sunderland made nine changes against Southampton, but while Gustavo Poyet’s decision to prioritise the relegation fight over a cup can be understood, the same can’t be said about the Saints, who rested some of their stars even though they’re comfortably clear of the bottom three.
Swansea didn’t fare much better either, but they too have the excuse of European football, which brings a question to mind: how did teams manage to win the FA Cup while playing European football and playing more games in the league than teams do now?
2) Mourinho’s horses not at the races
Having outclassed Manchester City just over 10 days ago, Chelsea returned to the Etihad for the second time in less than two weeks with more than one reason to be confident against Manuel Pellegrini’s free scoring team.
However, everything that had worked out so well for Chelsea in the first meeting of 2014 between the two sides went missing on Saturday, as the Blues saw their attacking instincts stifled, while their back four was uncharacteristically shaky.
Who knows, perhaps Mourinho is right in claiming that this Chelsea side is still a work in progress and can’t compete with City on more than one front, but the way the Blues went down without a fight felt like a step back and it might affect their league form too.
3) Here comes the Ox
When Theo Walcott suffered a season-ending injury against Spurs, the worries of Arsenal fans were shared by those who have the national team’s interest at heart, given the Arsenal winger had been enjoying an excellent season up until then.
However, both Arsene Wenger and Roy Hodgson seem to have a ready-made replacement on their hands, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued his excellent form against Liverpool.
Having scored twice against Palace a week ago in his first start since his return from injury, Oxlade-Chamberlain scored once and assisted another as Arsenal exerted their revenge on Liverpool.
An in-form Oxlade-Chamberlain offers Arsenal and England a much-needed fleet-footed winger, although Hodgson will hope that there will be no repeat of yesterday’s clumsy tackle next time the Ox and Luis Suarez square up.
4) Webb’s wobbling
These are not easy times for Howard Webb. Having been criticised for sending off Andy Carroll after the West Ham had lashed out at Chico Flores, thus ensuring the Spaniard would go down as if he’d been shot, England’s World Cup referee was in the eye of the storm again.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s challenge on Luis Suarez was late, clumsy and should have been punished with a penalty, but Webb – who should have also sent Steven Gerrard off for a second bookable offence – bizarrely decided to let the game go on, sparking Brendan Rodgers’ fury.
Is Webb already dreaming of Rio de Janeiro’s sandy beaches?
5) Domestic comfort for City
Talk of a quadruple might still be a tad premature given that Barcelona seem to have rediscovered some form just in time for their trip to the Etihad, but Saturday’s 2-0 win over Chelsea put Manchester City a step closer to a domestic treble.
The draw for the sixth round pits Arsenal and Everton, arguably the best teams left in the competition apart from City, against each other and while Wigan will be hoping to shock Kompany & co. for the second season in a row, it’s hard to fathom how City could lose at home against the holders.
Three points adrift of first place in the Premier League having played a game less than Arsenal, in the League Cup final and overwhelming favourites to reach the semifinal in the FA Cup.
Who’s lumping money on a domestic treble?