We're in the midst of a big couple of weeks of cup competition, which kicked off last Sunday with Manchester United's Carling Cup final victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Its the second trophy in Man U's potentially historic quest for the "quintuple," a word we're pretty sure didn't exist until the Red Devils forced the geeks at the Oxford English Dictionary to invent it with their antics this season.
The highlight of the match wasn't the mazy runs of Cristiano Ronaldo and Aaron Lennon, nor the contrasting approaches of master motivator HarryRedknapp and tactical mastermind Alex Ferguson. No, the focus was on the content of an iPod. As the match ended square without a goal after normal time, and then extra time, the tense key few moments before a cup-deciding penalty shootout didn't feel like the right time to start checking out the latest Jay-Z video.
At least that's what United understudy keeper Ben Foster appeared to be doing in the buildup to what probably was the biggest moment of his career. In the shootout, Foster made an excellent save off an attempt by Tottenham midfielder Jamie O'Hara, and dove correctly to his right as David Bentley flashed his penalty just beyond the post, clinching the trophy for United.
The reason for Foster's penalty heroics? Pre-shootout inspiration from Jay-Z? No, Foster was making use of a previously unheard of sporting technological innovation (in soccer, anyway). Foster explained, "We tried to find out everything we could about Spurs beforehand, and just before the shootout, I was looking at a video on an iPod with Eric Steele, our goalkeeping coach. It's a new innovation he's brought in since coming to the club."
After the game the press wrote of a "glimpse of the future," not just in the innovative use of technology to second-guess the opponent's spot kicks, but also for Manchester United and England's No. 1 shirt. Foster, at age 25, is no spring chicken, but in goalkeeping terms that still potentially gives him many years of top-flight soccer, with the likes of David James and Brad Friedel both pushing 40.
Foster was rewarded for his heroics in the final with a new four-year contract, and appears to be next in line to replace Edwin van der Sar. The 38-year-old Dutchman is under contract until the end of next season, but his invincibility as United's first-choice keeper started to show cracks at just the wrong time with his howler against Newcastle in a Premier League match on Wednesday.
United went on to beat the Magpies 2-1, but the game was overshadowed by a comical squabble between Newcastle right back Steven Taylor and Ronaldo. Taylor was fortunate to dodge a red card after a left hook that sent Ronaldo rolling around on the floor. But the fisticuffs allegedly continued in the tunnel at halftime. Ronaldo supposedly kicked off the debate with, "You're a rubbish footballer." Taylor was quick to settle things by retorting, "Well, you're ugly."
Ronaldo will be taking his repertoire of poor insults to London this weekend, where Fulham is the next team to stand in the way of Manchester United and its record-breaking trophy haul. United should be favored in this FA Cup quarterfinal matchup at Craven Cottage against a side that has surpassed expectations this year after narrowly avoiding relegation last season. However, the West London side hasn't had the best of buildups to the game, suffering a home defeat to Hull on Wednesday, a side that hadn't won since early December.
In the second of Saturday's FA Cup games, Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink hopes that Ashley Cole will have slept off his hangover by the time his team faces second-division side Coventry. With his wife, Cheryl, in Africa climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for charity, Cole was doing his bit at a Chelsea charity function on Wednesday night.
Things were going swimmingly until the combination of free booze and the realization that his other half was halfway up a mountain in a different continent set the England defender up for a 2.30 a.m. run-in with the police and a night in jail for being drunk and disorderly. Cole won't be too worried by the $113 fine, given his $125,000-a-week salary will have paid it off in less than 10 minutes. What he'll be dreading more is the reaction of his pop-star wife as soon as she returns to cell-phone reception and hears of his misdemeanors.
Everton is at home to Middlesbrough in the third FA Cup quarterfinal. Hull City awaits the winner between Arsenal and Burnley, who are a round behind everyone else after Arsenal's fourth-round match against Cardiff City was originally snowed out.
Next week, after the Carling Cup and the FA Cup, come the second legs of the Champions League's first knockout round. The standout games sees the return of José Mourinho to an EPL stadium as manager for the first time since his acrimonious departure from Chelsea, as he brings his Inter Milan side to Old Trafford. A first-leg stalemate at the San Siro means that a 1-0 win in Inter's favor, or a 1-1 draw, would see the Italians go through and Ferguson's quintuple dreams go up in smoke. However, the Nerazzurri are going through a rough patch at the moment, losing 3-0 to Sampdoria in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal tie on Wednesday and drawing 3-3 with Roma last weekend.
The two other Anglo-Italian Champions League matches are similarly poised, with Chelsea and Arsenal both taking 1-0 leads across to Juventus and Roma, respectively. Although the nature of the away-goals rule means that if the English clubs score, the Italian sides will have to score three.
Liverpool is in a stronger position, grabbing an away goal in the first leg at the Bernabéu, meaning Real Madrid will need to score at least two goals at Anfield to progress. That is something no team has done since early December. Liverpool fans will be buoyed by the comments of talismanic striker FernandoTorres, who has declared he will be fit for the game.
Tom of Portland, Ore., isn't happy with the goings-on at Arsenal. "What is Arsène Wenger playing at?" he screams. "He's got all these attacking players and we can't get a single goal?!?" Indeed, it wasn't looking good for Arsenal, which drew four straight games 0-0 and made its fans at the Emirates increasingly restless.
They will have been appeased slightly by the 3-1 victory over West Brom on Wednesday, but against a team that's rock bottom of the table, that's no great achievement. Arsenal is thankful for Aston Villa's poor run that has seen it lose two and draw one of its last three games; that has brought the Gunners back into the race for fourth place. Arsenal will be glad of the distractions of the FA Cup and the Champions League before its EPL campaign resumes.
It's a make-or-break week for Manchester United in the quest for a clean sweep of trophies. Let us know your views on whether you think Ferguson's men can do it, and send us anything else you want to get of your chest to the usual address: firstname.lastname@example.org.