Anyone looking at the FA Cup semi-final draw could be tempted to think that there will be one very passionate and entertaining game at Wembley and one dull, drab affair.
They’d be right – Roberto Mancini and Alex Ferguson both put out teams containing seven defensive-minded players in their respective ties at the weekend. Both managers may point to the fact that their sides overcame testing opposition, but a Manchester United midfield comprising Peter Kay and two full-backs hardly sets the pulses racing.
Ferguson won’t care one jot – especially as he proved he can account for his nearest challengers even with a comedy midfield. Arsene Wenger is in that all-too familiar position of recent times: close to something very good on all fronts but not quite close enough. They may yet prove their doubters wrong and win the Premiership, but that remains a big ask.
Meanwhile, Bolton and Stoke will go head to head after prevailing in entertaining all-Premiership ties. Own Coyle’s Trotters emerged victorious from a thrilling game at Birmingham, with Lee Chung-Yong finally breaking the Blues’ resistance in a 3-2 win.
Tony Pulis’s Stoke enjoyed a measure of revenge for their recent spanking at the hands of West Ham, edging out the Hammers 2-1. The game was mired in controversy, notably from the moment Frederic Piquionne controlled the ball with his arm to bundle in an equaliser meaning referee Mike Jones decided to even things up by awarding a soft penalty to Stoke (which was ultimately saved by Rob Green).
In Spain, Barcelona were made to rue their profligacy in front of goal. In spite of a dominant first-half display, they left Sevilla with just a point after a 1-1 draw. The intricate passing that is held up as everything wonderful about their game might actually have become a hindrance; trying too hard to create the perfect goal when you’re only 1-0 up has its potential drawbacks.
Following Real Madrid’s 2-0 victory over Hercules on Saturday night (both goals courtesy of a resurgent Karim Benzema), just five points separate the two sides at the top of La Liga. While that may sound like a lot, this comes in a season in which Barcelona won 16 games in a row and look light years ahead of every other team on the planet.