King Kenny's back at Liverpool, now he has to deal with Torres
Premier League storylines from the weekend's FA Cup action:
And his most important task is to get Fernando Torres playing something like his former self -- or ship him out while he'll still fetch a fee worth having. Though Sunday's meeting with Manchester United was all storylines and no soccer, Kenny Dalglish will have been encouraged by the performance of his players, even after going a man down to a rash challenge by Steven Gerrard with an hour to play. Yes, United preserved its dubiously gotten lead without doing much worth televising, but Liverpool was energetic enough not to be written off until the closing minutes.
Sidestepping the inevitable conclusion that at least some of the team wasn't giving its all under Roy Hodgson, back to Torres: Surrounded by endeavor, his lack of spirit stood out badly. Isolated up front alone? Perhaps, but remember when we didn't have to make excuses for him? Before the sending-off and intermittently afterward, the supply was there, but Torres' first touch and on-his-heels disposition helped Jonny Evans (first appearance since November) appear half decent. Torres looked excited to see his number on the board that introduced David N'Gog in the 77th minute. The fact that the substitution prompted no reported choking incidents speaks volumes about how times have changed.
With UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules looming like a tax return, we could see previously spendthrift clubs investing more faith in promising young players, and plenty of them showed over the weekend that they're up for it. There will be far tougher challenges than manager-less Championship-struggler Ipswich Town, but Josh McEachran's performance for Chelsea in central midfield positively sparkled -- showing, as he did against Marseille recently, a reliable eye for a pass.
At 17, he may not be pivotal to Carlo Ancelotti's plans (especially as Frank Lampard is hitting form), but up front, Daniel Sturridge, 21, confirmed that he's been waiting on the sidelines for too long. Having put five past Tottenham in a midweek reserves match, Sturridge made Didier Drogba's absence through injury no handicap at all. He surely deserves the chance to prove himself similarly capable in the Premier League.
Speaking of Tottenham, 19-year-old Andros Townsend made an encouraging debut in a 3-0 win over Charlton, marrying audacity with accuracy and scoring the first goal from range. Danny Rose, who scored against Arsenal last season and hasn't been seen in north London since, is a cautionary tale here, but Townsend's directness, if it comes with a consistent end product, would give Harry Redknapp genuine depth on the right side of midfield.
And a final word for Liverpool's Martin Kelly who, like his United counterpart, Rafael da Silva, had an excellent game at right back. He's been a bit player this season but, having shown himself to be defensively robust and offensively reliable in a tough environment Sunday, deserves a run in the team ahead of Glen Johnson -- or perhaps behind him, if Johnson can be converted to a wing role that would offer Liverpool a bit more width.
"Ah, that is the beauty of the FA Cup." It's a well-worn refrain, and it was uttered several times during the weekend as Manchester City was held by Leicester City -- 31 league places and several billion dollars worse off -- and Reading, Southampton, Stevenage Borough (which is as small a club as the name suggests) and Notts County all overcame Premier League opposition. But it's worth concentrating on Leeds United's draw with Arsenal, because you're probably going to be seeing a lot more of that United soon.
Leeds is fifth in the Championship, within sniffing distance of the automatic promotion places just as QPR and Cardiff, who currently occupy the places, falter. Its performance against Arsenal at the Emirates -- ambitious, assiduous and defensively unshakable -- ought to have earned a place in the fourth round rather than a replay, and demonstrated Leeds' readiness to return to the top flight. It also directed minds toward the same question as the goalless draw between Arsenal and Manchester City days earlier: Should Arsene Wenger be shopping for a striker, rather than a center half?
Substitute Theo Walcott made an immediate impact, but his admission
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For the weekend's trip to Leicester, Roberto Mancini pulled Milner into the middle of a four-man midfield with Patrick Vieira. Instantly he made the kind of difference to the side that you'd want for a $37 million investment. Overall, City couldn't have complained had Leicester (now managed by Sven Goran Eriksson) won, but there was no faulting Milner.
On a spongy pitch, Milner never stopped running, defending from the front (he spent much of the game ahead of Vieira and behind Carlos Tevez), setting up City's second with a delightful center and heading a Sol Bamba effort off the line at 2-2. He could have set up the third from a driving run if Leicester keeper Chris Weale hadn't saved Nigel do Jong's shot. Most impressive of all, he scored the first with a low, powerful strike after a decent turn of pace (and a neat one-two with Tevez) that helped him surprise the defense.
Considering it's founded on the principle of "a short burst of inconsequential information," Twitter is managing to get a lot of people in to trouble these days. Not long after Glen Johnson's ill-considered attack on Paul Merson, teammate Ryan Babel looks to have set up a hearing with the FA by posting a mocked-up picture of referee Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt. He's since apologized for his stupidity, but the implication of bias is what will attract the governing body's ire. It's not difficult to imagine that Mr. Dalglish might want a chat today, too.
It would be a shame to lose players from Twitter, though. For all the misspellings, bravado and plain guff, it's a modern-day approximation of the times when players got the bus home from matches with everyone else, without a sssh-ing press officer or agent in sight. And sometimes Twitter can work for good: Blackburn is investigating after QPR's Jamie Mackie, who suffered a double leg break in Saturday's 1-0 defeat, tweeted that El Hadji Diouf had shouted: "F--- you and f--- your leg" at him as he lay on the ground. This may be the first and only time that manager Neil Warnock's postmatch rant ("I was going to call him a sewer rat, but that would be insulting to sewer rats") doesn't land him in hot water.