City's midfield powers FA Cup win; Torres still goal-shy for Chelsea
Five things we learned from
This season, Tevez has scored or assisted on 50 percent of City's Premier League goals. That is an astonishing percentage. Peter Odemwingie, West Brom, is next at just over 36 percent, and he's just about his club's only attacking weapon. City has spent a fortune on strikers, but they tend to be a tactical afterthought in a squad built primarily to stifle opposing attacks and crush opposing midfields. Roberto Mancini, the City coach, rarely deviates from a five-man midfield, a system that works well with the energetic and versatile Tevez. On Saturday, even with two attacking wide players, the system left Mario Balotelli isolated and anonymous in attack.
The five-man midfield tends to force opponents, scared of being overrun, to play five midfielders of their own. Without his own deep-lying striker, Wayne Rooney, United coach Alex Ferguson started with just Dimitar Berbatov in attack. The Bulgarian squandered two good early chances, but after that, Yaya Toure, Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry, City's powerful central trio, gradually overpowered United. Without Tevez to add the creative spark, City needs to find another way to create chances. On Saturday, as United struggled to clear, Toure ambushed Michael Carrick, United's one genuine defensive midfielder, sprinted forward and scored.
The game ended 1-0. City had reached the FA Cup final by bullying United into creating the chance it needed.
On Saturday, with United trailing, 1-0, after 72 minutes, Scholes and Pablo Zabaleta both went for a bouncing ball. The City defender arrived a half step ahead, and raised his boot to kick the ball. Scholes also raised his boot and missed the ball. He seemed to have time to turn his leg and foot slightly away, but did not try and planted his cleats firmly in Zabaleta thighs. It looked like a nasty, vindictive act by a competitive man whose team was losing. He deservedly received a red card.
But what the camera also showed was that as he raised his foot, Scholes closed his eyes and started to turn his head away. Scholes can be a remarkably brave player, dribbling at much bigger defenders throwing his head at balls in the penalty area. But we all have situations that touch a nerve, and in challenges for loose balls, Scholes has often looked a bit like a baby elephant that has just seen a mouse.
Drogba, who no doubt would like to see out his Chelsea contract, was back to his raging bull best. He scored the first goal and set up the second as Chelsea took a 3-1 lead by halftime. Ancelotti had said he made a mistake on Tuesday at Manchester United when he started Fernando Torres instead of Drogba.
On Saturday, Torres started on the bench. He looked good there. He also looked good warming up. He looked very good jogging on with eight minutes left and the game won. He looked extremely good indeed as he stroked the ball into the net, but the offside flag was up as it was almost every time he touched the ball, the one time it didn't, Torres missed horribly. Without a goal since his expensive move, he is still under pressure. It shows.
Any team can score the occasional upset, as Wolves have shown this season, but a few spectacular victories are not enough.
Blackpool played the first half of the season as if it was rushing to put out a fire. On Saturday it looked exhausted as it lost, 3-1, at home to Wigan -- a team which it beat 4-0 on opening day.
West Ham had raised hopes with a recent good run. It took the lead after two minutes at home to Aston Villa, but, with its midfield shorn of Scott Parker, the Hammers managed only one shot in the last 70 minutes of the game. Gabriel Agbonlahor scored Villa's winner in added time, but, not for the first time this season, West Ham was lucky to have held on long enough to lose to a late goal.
Blackpool, West Ham and Wolves, which did not play, now make up the bottom three. Wigan jumped a point and a place above Blackpool. It is just behind plunging Blackburn, which lost at Everton.
Villa leapt to ninth, seven points and nine places above Blackpool. Birmingham beat Sunderland, 2-0, and both those clubs are on 38 points, five above Blackpool. If either of those teams loses its five remaining games it might go down, but both have a five-point cushion and two other teams between them and the trap door.
It looks as if the bottom five have the relegation battle to themselves.