Much like Saturday, we saw a mix of both Premier League and FA Cup action yesterday. A total of three matches were played with Premier League sides participating in all of them. Now that the last of the 4 Quarter-finals has been played, Manchester City, Wolves and Watford having already made it to the next stage, we now know who is to play who at Wembley. Liverpool and Chelsea, who departed this competition in the earlier rounds, pariticipated in our two Premier League games of the day.
Starting off with the cup and Millwall were looking to be the only non-Premier League side to make it to this year’s FA Cup Semi-finals. Doing this was never going to be easy though, as they were up against a fairly secure top tier side in Brighton. As much as Millwall were clear underdogs, this did look like the sort of game in which an upset wouldn’t be a million miles away. Other than a recent away win against fierce rivals Crystal Palace, Brighton haven’t been in the best of form resulting in them being dragged more into a relegation scrap than they would have liked. On top of this, whilst it can’t really be said so much for this season, Millwall do have a reputation of being quiet difficult to beat at home. The first half was fairly level and remained goalless for its entirety, the game only really kicking into life in terms of goalscoring in the second. For a brief period, at least, an upset was exactly what it looked like we might be seeing. Lions central defender Alex Pearce headed home the opening goal in the 70th minute before O’Brien tucked home a second just 9 minutes later. Being two goals ahead with just over ten minutes left to play, Millwall looked almost certain to be heading to Wembley. Locadia didn’t score Brighton’s first goal until the 88th minute. The game remained 2-1 right up until the 95th minute when substitute Solly March snatched an equaliser. You would’ve fancied Brighton now going into extra time after pulling back two late goals. Regardless, this additional 30 minutes didn’t add anyything to the scoreline. A late red card for Millwall’s Ferguson didn’t prove too costly as the game went to penalties just moments after. Millwall took an early advantage in the shootout after Glenn Murray, the last person you’d expect to miss from the spot, failed to hit the back of the net. However, the home side were unable to capitalise on this, missing twice themselves. Apart from Murray’s miss, Brighton were assured in their penalty taking scoring all the rest and winning the shootout 4-5. Brighton wouldn’t have wanted or probably expected this game to be as difficult as it was but, as is always the case with knockout football, the result is all that matters.
We can now turn our attention to the Premier League. Second placed Liverpool had the opportunity to go top of the table, for a while at least, with City playing in the cup instead of the league this weekend. Klopp’s side came up against a surely relegation bound Fulham. Given the vast difference in league standing, Liverpool were obvious favourites to claim all three points in this one and started the game just as you’d expect. Sadio Mane kept up his hot streak as he found the opening goal from a Robertson cut-back before the half hour mark. Despite having played midweek in the Champions League, the Reds looked lively and dangerous, with no such hangover like the one United have experienced since their victory over PSG. Nonetheless, Liverpool were unable to easily add more goals. In fact, it was Fulham and former Liverpool man Ryan Babel who scored the second goal of the game. The Dutch winger pounced on a rare van Dijk mistake. The towering centre back tried to nod the ball to his keeper but didn’t get enough on it allowing Babel to steal it and pass straight into an open net. Liverpool now had about 15 minutes to try and find an all important winner. Drawing against a relagation threatened side like Fulham, with Manchester City going so well in the league at the moment, could have been extremely costly to their hopes of winning the league. Much to the relief of their fans, they were able to score again with time to spare. Fulham keeper Sergio Rico seems to be making mistake after mistake and added another to his tally yesterday. He flapped at a ball which he should have comfortably caught, allowing it to drop at the feet of the clinical Mane. He then brought the Liverpool man down before he could take his shot. Milner fired the resulting penalty straight down the middle and Liverpool held on for a 1-2 victory. They now sit two points clear at the summit of the Premier League table and will do until at least until after the international break, when City will look to win their game in hand and reclaim top spot.
The other Premier League encounter of the day saw Chelsea travelling in the opposite direction to Liverpool as they visited Merseyside to face Everton. Everton have always been something of a bogey side for Chelsea but the London club would have been hoping to put that aside and boost their chances of claiming a top 4 spot with a win. You would have put money on them doing that based on the way the first half went. They had a number of decent chances; Hazard struck the post from outside the box and Higuain couldn’t beat Pickford from close range. Everton failed to even test Kepa at the other end. This game wasn’t like the recent encounter between Chelsea and Wolves. Everton hadn’t starved Cheslea of chances like Wolves did. Instead, the likes of Higuain, who we’re used to seeing score goals out of nothing, was unable to take his chances. You would still have thought that they would eventually find a goal in the second half with Everton needing to change things if they wanted to earn at least a point from this game. They looked like a different side in the second period. Richarlison found the opening goal from a rebound just 4 minutes after kick-off. Alonso, who must be falling out of favour with Sarri following a few poor defensive performances in recent times, then clumsily tripped Richarlison in the box. Their second goal also came from a rebound; Sigurdsson’s intial strike from twelve yards was well saved by Kepa but the ball fell nicely for the Iceland international to place home into the other corner. This loss could be a damaging one for Chelsea as they now sit three points behind 4th placed Arsenal. They will be thankful that they received a favourable draw in the Europa League both in terms of their Quarter-final opponents and who the could face in the Semi-finals. This is now, perhaps, their most likely route to qualifying for next year’s Champions League.
Yesterday was a day of football that brought scares for a couple of Premier League teams who were favourites going into their matches, and a harmful defeat for one. We can say that brighton should have done better against Millwall, who are threatened by relegation themselves, but, in truth, the Seagulls showed great determination to turn the match around. A trip to Wembley is a great reward and experience for the fans and club in general and, who knows, they might beat City in the Semis and go all the way. Liverpool showed similar fight to go ahead twice against Fulham and keep their hopes of Premier League glory alive. The same can’t be said about Chelsea as they slumped to a 2-0 defeat and placed the pressure back on Sarri just as they looked to be turning things around.