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Ancelotti needs major surgery to fix Everton’s sorry mess

The third-round weekend of the FA Cup brought a small sprinkling of upsets with Tranmere, Rochdale, Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday stealing the headlines.

Everton’s Italian head coach Carlo Ancelotti gestures during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Everton at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on January 1, 2020. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /

The third-round weekend of the FA Cup brought a small sprinkling of upsets with Tranmere, Rochdale, Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday stealing the headlines.

But it also featured another load of soul-searching over the competition’s place in the football calendar with some sparse crowds and wholesale changes pretty much across the board.

We take a look at 10 things we learned from a busy third-round weekend.The third round is an unwitting victim of scheduling

Managers don’t even try to pretend they’re taking this stage of the FA Cup seriously anymore. Those in charge of Premier League and Championship clubs now openly admit the third round is a nuisance.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith said their game at Fulham was ‘not on top of our priorities’ while Watford boss Nigel Pearson said: ‘I can’t sit in front of you and try to give you a feeling everything is equal in how we look at competitions.’

In what has become an annual third-round tradition, managers rotated their squads to keep players fresh for league fixtures. Reading, West Brom and Sheffield United made the maximum 11 changes from their last game, while Leicester, Southampton, Luton, Swansea, and Nottingham Forest all made 10.

In all, the 19 Premier League clubs who played on Saturday and Sunday made 132 team changes, while the 23 Championship clubs made 166.

The third-round weekend was one of the highlights of the season, but it has become the victim of a festive fixture list that becomes more and more congested each season.

Premier League clubs played on December 20/21, 26/27, 28/29 and then January 1/2, so it’s little wonder players were feeling the strain.

The only way to restore some of the prestige of the third round is to remove one of these league rounds, perhaps scheduling it in midweek during the early months of the season.

So those pitchside VAR screens do work after all!

Astonishing scenes at Selhurst Park as a referee decided to make use of the pitchside VAR monitor to check a decision rather than relying on the officials at Stockley Park.

Michael Oliver made up his own mind that Luka Milivojevic of Crystal Palace deserved to be sent off after kicking out at Derby’s Tom Huddlestone, having initially shown a yellow.

Most people’s first introduction to VAR was at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, when the sight of referees running over to consult the pitchside screen was commonplace.

So many fans will have been baffled that Premier League referees haven’t done likewise this season so far despite the technology being visibly in place.

One New Year’s resolution for the top flight should be to make greater use of these monitors and hopefully Oliver has started a positive trend.

Everton hit rock bottom
So it turns out Bill Shankly’s famous quote about the two best teams on Merseyside being Liverpool and Liverpool reserves could well be true after all.

Jurgen Klopp could afford to make nine changes from the team currently racing away with the Premier League and still win Sunday’s derby against Everton.

The Toffees haven’t won at Anfield since 1999 so have become accustomed to leaving empty-handed, but this defeat to a youthful Liverpool side will have smarted far more than usual.

It underlined the scale of the task awaiting Carlo Ancelotti, who has rejuvenated the team in recent weeks but needs to deliver some home truths after this abject performance.

Everton’s starting line-up cost £221million to assemble but failed to take a string of first-half chances and then succumbed to a stunning goal by youngster Curtis Jones.

Major surgery is needed on that Everton team and the fans, who loudly vented their frustrations at the final whistle, will feel it’s back to square one again.

We’ve become accustomed to the Premier League era to seeing shirts emblazoned with at least one sponsor’s logo, as well as names and numbers on the back.

So how refreshing it was to see Chelsea play Nottingham Forest in a gorgeous retro kit to mark 50 years since their famous FA Cup triumph over Leeds United.

The standard cumbersome logos for Japanese tyre companies were faded out, leaving a vivid blue, yellow old-school badge and the big number on the back. It’s just a shame Chelsea didn’t field a 1-11 line-up.

It’s nothing new of course – the Manchester derby in February 2008 saw both United and City wear retro kits to mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster.

But does there always need to be a commemoration? Perhaps the Premier League can arrange for one round of fixtures a season when all 20 teams wear old-fashioned kits.

Life really does begin at 40
If you’re good enough, you’re young enough… or something like that.

In a weekend featuring plenty of kids in much-changed sides, Rochdale’s 40-year-old forward Aaron Wilbraham created one of the sensations of the third round with his late equaliser against Newcastle.

As well as another memorable result for Rochdale’s history books, Wilbraham’s goal earned them the much-needed windfall of a replay at St James’ Park next week.

Wilbraham has now scored a goal for a professional club in four different decades and he is 23 years older than the player who set him up, Luke Matheson.

It just goes to prove that age is merely a number and that any team benefits from both the impudence of youth and the wisdom of veterans.

But the kids are alright really
One of the few remaining highlights of the FA Cup third round is the emergence of fresh faces and new names.

We’ve already mentioned the outstanding goal scored by 18-year-old local lad Jones as Liverpool beat Everton, though he had already scored the winning penalty in a Carabao Cup win over Arsenal earlier this season.

But other kids to shine over the weekend included Norwich’s Adam Idah, 18, who scored a hat-trick in their win at Preston and could now be unleashed against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Then there was the heart-warmingly enthusiastic post-match interview given by Sheffield Wednesday’s 19-year-old defender Osaze Urhoghide after their 1-0 win at Brighton.

Urhoghide made his first-team debut and couldn’t stop smiling after helping the Championship side into the fourth round.

It just goes to prove that the FA Cup still matters to some.

Manchester United look sluggish on and off the pitch
Turning up late has become such a common occurrence for the Man United team that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has started offering reasons for their tardiness.

Their team bus arrived at Molineux 72 minutes before kick-off against Wolves on Saturday night, which, given FA rules state starting line-ups must be submitted in the presence of the referee 75 minutes beforehand, is cutting it fine.

But Solskjaer believes that was more than enough time, saying the dressing rooms are too cramped for United’s players and legions of support staff.

“Sometimes, the music is horrible,’ he added in a damning indictment of whoever has control of the squad’s Spotify playlist.

They’ve made a habit of it this season, arriving at Watford just before Christmas an hour and a quarter before kick-off after getting stuck in traffic.

Under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, there were many instances of tardy arrivals for games. Once Mourinho got off the team bus and walked to Old Trafford ahead of a game with Juventus.

You suspect this wouldn’t have happened under Sir Alex Ferguson, the furious watch-tapper.

Given they lost at Watford and struggled for the most part against Wolves, perhaps 75 minutes of pre-match preparation isn’t enough for United.

And there’s an obvious joke to be made that in a worryingly large number of games this season, they haven’t really turned up at all.

Mourinho excels himself with a new excuse
We’ve heard plenty of excuses from Jose Mourinho down the years, ranging from fixture scheduling to travel times to dodgy grass and biased referees.

But blaming the flight of the ball for Tottenham’s under-powered performance in drawing 1-1 at Middlesbrough on Sunday is most definitely a new one.

“This ball is a beach ball,’ Mourinho told BT Sport. ‘It’s too light. I don’t think it helps the players.’

Perhaps the Mitre ball used at the Riverside Stadium on Sunday – the normal match ball in the FA Cup and the Football League – does move a little differently to the Nike ball used in the Premier League.

But there are strict rules on the weight of the match ball in top-level competition, stipulating it must be between 410 and 450 grams, so really it all comes down to design.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola had a pop at the Mitre ball after his team played Wolves in the Carabao Cup in 2017, so perhaps there’s something in it.

But really it’s just a convenient excuse for a lacklustre Spurs performance on Teesside.
Never underestimate the power of momentum

With their team trailing a ruthless Watford 3-0 after just 34 minutes, the 2,700 travelling Tranmere fans at Vicarage Road on Saturday were probably figuring out how to avoid the serious crash that closed the M1 on their journey home.

But, in another reminder that you should never abandon all hope in football, their team staged a thrilling late comeback to draw 3-3 and force a Prenton Park replay.

It was clear that their first goal, scored by Connor Jennings following the intervention of VAR after 65 minutes, completely shifted the momentum of a game that, until that point, was flowing all Watford’s way.

Watford should have had the quality to see out the game from there but instead completely capitulated, allowing old habits from the early weeks of the season to creep back into their game.

As Tranmere’s Paul Mullin, who hammered home the 87th-minute penalty to make it 3-3, said: ‘When we scored the first, I was a sub, and I turned to a fellow sub and said: “If we score again it’s going to a replay”.

‘I could just sense it. I thought 100 per cent we would do it. Once you’ve got one goal in football, it is momentum. I don’t care at what level you play, momentum changes games.’

Indeed it does and you can never underestimate it.

The FA Cup is lacking magic
Tranmere offered an uplifting story over the weekend but there weren’t too many others and that meant the inevitable debate about what can be done to reinvigorate the FA Cup.

The argument that replays should be scrapped was raised again with Man United and Wolves facing the prospect of shoe-horning yet another fixture into an already congested schedule this month.

But try telling that to Tranmere and Rochdale, who can now look forward to another crack at Premier League opposition next week.

Replays have already been stripped back in the FA Cup with none from the fifth round onwards and you do wonder if they would be missed at this stage.

There were also remarks that only two non-league clubs – Fylde and Hartlepool – made it through to the third round, thus reducing the magic of the competition.

But this isn’t out of step with recent seasons when only a handful of sides from the National League or below have made it this far.

There has been the idea of introducing a Champions League place to the winner of the FA Cup but this devalues the honour of winning the FA Cup itself, even if certain teams would take it more seriously. It would also be impossible under UEFA rules.

The last six competitions have been won by one of the so-called ‘top six’ anyway so the big teams do take it seriously once they get to a certain point.

One idea to spice up the third round could be to have a seeded draw to prevent all-Premier League ties and increase the chances of lower league sides getting a good draw.

You could also copy what is done in the German Cup and have the bigger club always drawn away at lower-league opposition in the early rounds.

But as mentioned before, the third round has become a victim of the over-busy Christmas schedule and the resultant team rotations – and that isn’t likely to change any time soon.

Culled from