Plus: David de Gea once again came to Man Utd's rescue; Steven Bergwijn returns from the brink of a Spurs exit to become a match-winner for Antonio Conte's side; Can Chelsea really use tiredness as an excuse?; And finally, can Brighton dream of Europe after 1-1 draw against Chelsea?
Friday 21 January 2022 08:47, UK
There was a fancy pre-match light show at the Emirates, but the two brightest lights ended up being for Liverpool with Diogo Jota and Trent Alexander-Arnold almost unplayable during their Carabao Cup semi-final second leg.
The pair linked up for both goals, which sent Liverpool to a Wembley final for the first time under Jurgen Klopp.
The first was a sensational midfield pass from Alexander-Arnold to find Jota, who easily dinked across the top of the area before scuffing a shot home. Only Mohamed Salah has scored more goals for Liverpool this season across all competitions.
Alexander-Arnold then found himself in the right place at the right time, picking up a loose ball before curling it over the top for Jota. He eventually scored with a sensational finish - but needed VAR to intervene to prove that he was onside.
The goal deservedly and correctly stood to cap off a truly wonderful evening for both players.
They topped the charts in most statistical areas too. Jota scored with both of his shots on target, and had the most touches in the opposition box (3) as well as dribbles (19). Alexander-Arnold was joint-top for possession won (7) and created the most chances (3).
The right-back came in for praise from his manager too, with Jurgen Klopp saying: "He was outstanding… The second goal, I don't think anyone saw Jota free but Trent did. He defended well too with the balls in behind so it's really special."
But Alexander-Arnold reserved his plaudits for Jota, telling Sky Sports: "He is a world-class player in possibly the best form he's been in at the club so far.
"Hopefully there'll be more goals for him and we can get a win in the final too."
Liverpool continue to reap the rewards of their world-class wing-backs as Jota keeps the pressure on 'The Big Three'. He is proving to be a more than worthy replacement with Salah and Sadio Mane away at AFCON, adding an even more daunting prospect when the two return ahead of the Wembley final against Chelsea.
14 red cards in two years. 14. No wonder Mikel Arteta looked like he'd seen it all before when Thomas Partey was shown his marching orders for picking up two yellow cards in three minutes in Arsenal's Carabao Cup exit to Liverpool.
Is it a concern? "Yes," he told Sky Sports' Guy Havord, barely giving him a chance to finish his sentence. Of course it is - it's three in as many games now, and Arsenal have lost all of them.
"At this level, it's extremely difficult to win football matches [with red cards]," added Arteta, quite factually. He's seen plenty of evidence to back that up - of the 13 games Arsenal's dismissals have come from (two were in the same defeat to Wolves in February 2021), they have won none. What a dismal record - it's almost one in eight of Arteta's entire managerial record at the Emirates.
One issue is observing a statistic like that, quite another is fixing it. Have Arsenal been unlucky? Granit Xhaka, the recipient of three of those dismissals, would consider himself so. But there's not enough luck in the world to explain away 14 red cards in two years.
It points to a deeper lack of discipline within the Arsenal dressing room, and given ongoing issues with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and more recently Bernd Leno, that isn't much of a stretch.
Someone in the London Colney dressing room needs to have a word. Because now that it's top four or nothing following their cup exit, more avoidable slip-ups caused by needless red cards will only lead to another season of disappointment at the Emirates.
This was another valiant effort from Brentford, but ultimately they were blown away in a 22-minute spell in the second half.
Manchester United were not good in every aspect during the opening period and were second to every ball, by interim boss Ralf Rangnick's own admission, and Brentford head coach Thomas Frank went a step further in his assessment.
"We played the Brentford way," he said. "It was a miracle they weren't two goals down by half-time. David de Gea was by far the best Manchester United player today. Their first goal changed the momentum of the game."
Frank was accurate with his assessment. As in the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa last weekend - where De Gea made seven saves - here the Spaniard made another seven, and was visibly frustrated to lose his clean sheet in the final five minutes.
"Yes, we were fortunate to be level. We have to be honest," Rangnick said. "Without David and his brilliant saves, it would've been difficult to have had a clean sheet by half-time.
"We weren't strong enough in the centre of the pitch and we were losing almost every 50-50 situation. We were too nervous on the ball and the opponents were extremely aggressive and brave in pressing us."
"David has been doing that the last couple of weeks - brilliant saves in first half. He is one of the best keepers in the world, I would say."
To put De Gea's influence into context, Manchester City's Ederson has only faced 35 shots all season in conceding 13 league goals, while here De Gea extended his record of having faced the most number of shots this term to 81.
If United are to reach the bare minimum target of a Champions League place during this second half of the campaign, they need to protect their goalkeeper a lot better. More clinical opponents would have been out of sight before United rallied.
As scripts go, it was an ending Agatha Christie would have been proud of. A plot twist of epic proportions.
Leicester looked home and hosed at 2-1 up vs Tottenham but Steven Bergwijn had other ideas as the clock ticked past the 90+5 minute mark in a game where only five minutes had been added. An equaliser looked out of the question let alone a potential winner for Spurs.
There simply wasn't enough time.
Yet, somehow there was.
Bergwijn could have been posing in one of those social media welcome photos for a new club rather than turning out for Spurs at the King Power. He's been part of speculation linking him with a move to Ajax and Sevilla since the January window opened but it seems that Antonio Conte wants him around. That decision looks a masterstroke (he's not got too many wrong, has he?) considering his impact in this quite breathtaking game.
Having come on in the 79th minute for Spurs, he looked fully motivated to drag his team back into a match they had dominated for large periods. A waved away penalty appeal caused him to react angrily to accusations of simulation from Soyuncu, drawing the Dutchman a booking. But he would have the last laugh - in a big way.
His first finish was all about instinct and being in the right place at the right time while the second was a masterclass in how to finish when all around you are losing their heads. The pass from Kane needs a mention. It was defence-splitting to the extreme and capped a wonderful display from the England captain who was in unplayable mood. Quite how he only registered one goal from his 10 attempts on goal will probably be keeping him awake this evening, if the adrenaline from this memorable finish to the game does not.
Bergwijn's finish from Kane's pass, considering the circumstances and that his blood would have been pumping faster than usual, made even the neutrals jump out of their seat, never mind the away end.
It has to be said that Tuchel is not the first manager to have pointed towards a hectic football schedule as a reason for below-par performances or results. Jurgen Klopp has been recently outspoken over the festive scheduling, and has previously asked the Liverpool U23s to stand in for senior fixtures due to fixture congestion.
The Chelsea boss told BT Sport after drawing 1-1 with Brighton: "We looked tired. We knew they were well prepared, had more time to prepare for this match and you see at the end after the whistle, the stadium celebrated like it was a victory. That is what you face.
"We need our full strength to overcome these obstacles, so no blame for the team. We tried everything, but you could see we were mentally and physically tired.
"We need some days off, we have now two days off then two days to prepare for the next match at home against Tottenham. The boys need some days off, there is no other solution."
And it's true that Chelsea have been busy of late. Tuchel pointed to their schedule being packed since November and he is right - their last extended break was over the November international break. Even then, the majority of Chelsea players would have still been playing for their countries.
They have played a game roughly every three days since and have also not had any games postponed in the recent spate of Covid cases in the Premier League - their match against Brighton was rearranged due to their appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup.
Their lethargy certainly showed against Brighton too. The Seagulls surpassed their energy levels across the pitch and matched them for attacking stats. Considering the talent at Tuchel's disposal - and the price tags they come with - it's a concern that of their 15 shots, only three were on target.
Some critics may say that despite the schedule, this is a footballer's job that they are well paid for. Chelsea will always be challenging in the latter stages of competitions and aiming for titles, with Tuchel having a deep, expensively assembled and incredibly talented squad at his disposal to be able to do so.
But, all things considered, footballers are not machines and eventually, everyone needs a rest. Chelsea were recently without a plethora of players - Reece James and Ben Chilwell remain out - and have played some while not really fit to do so. With sufficient time to recover, this dangerous risk would not have been needed and again, Chelsea are not the only team to have had to do so this season.
Their form reflects it too. Only a few months ago, Chelsea were lifting the Champions League trophy - the talent it takes to do so does not just drop away. But even the best players can take a knock to their confidence.
Chelsea are winless in their last four Premier League outings, including a huge blow to their Premier League title hopes last weekend against Manchester City, so it's easy to see where Tuchel's argument stems from.
"He said that his team will now have two days of rest before they begin preparing for a huge clash against Tottenham this weekend. But there is one thing for sure - Chelsea will need to bring their A-game against Spurs because the fans will not let them get away with any less than their best. Here's hoping the upcoming rest helps them rediscover their league form.
Brighton's brilliant season continued on Tuesday evening, drawing again with Chelsea just three weeks after a last-gasp point at Stamford Bridge.
And for much of their latest encounter, the Seagulls outperformed their illustrious opposition. They looked hungrier to win the ball - frustrating Chelsea across the park as they pressed and won it back on a number of occasions - with far more energy in the tank.
They bettered Chelsea for tackles (16), won tackles (11) and interceptions (17). They also matched Tuchel's side across a number of attacking areas with Danny Welbeck, Marc Cucurella and Tariq Lamptey proving a handful going forward.
Brighton have often been criticised for not taking their chances this season, and it was a similar story on Tuesday. They often found themselves in promising positions, but could not find that finishing touch. It's a concern that only two of their ten shots were on target.
But of course, it only takes one and that was a bullet header from an unmarked Adam Webster - who was also imperious at the back and along with Dan Burn, helped restrict Chelsea to just three shots on target themselves.
Graham Potter's side look to be back on track after a long spell without a victory, and have lost the third-lowest number of games in the Premier League. They do have by far and away the most number of draws though, including against Arsenal and Liverpool.
But picking up points and not losing means a steady rise up the league table. They are now six points behind Manchester United and Arsenal in seventh and sixth respectively. With inconsistency rife throughout the teams around them, if Brighton can keep on their current track and start adding a few more wins, a shot at Europe is within their reach.