5 Things We Learned from Premier League and FA Cup Weekend

Neri SteinFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2012

5 Things We Learned from Premier League and FA Cup Weekend

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    Carlos Tevez is definitely back, folks. But clearly, he'll still be making plenty of time in his schedule for golf

    Manchester City's once exiled Argentinian striker marked his first start in seven months with a hat trick, as the Citizens thrashed Norwich City 6-1 to keep their slim title hopes alive. 

    Meanwhile, Fernando Torres left Liverpool last January because he wanted to win trophies. He's still searching for that first piece of silverware with Chelsea, and if he hopes to get it, he'll have to go through his old team in the FA Cup Final. (Yes, I'm already writing off the Blues in the Champions League semifinal against Barcelona.) 

    Elsewhere across England, Ashley Young continued his campaign to no longer be considered a footballer, a mistake from Sylvain Distin cost David Moyes his best chance at a trophy with Everton in some time and officials just continue to get in the way of the football.

Some Players Just Get Better with Age

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    And Jamie Carragher is not one of them. 

    Ryan Giggs doesn't have the pace he once did, but he's been one of the most consistent players in England since the inception of the Premier League, and he's still one of the sharpest. 

    Despite scandal after scandal and the years and games piling up, Chelsea captain John Terry is as strong as ever and never misses a beat when he sits out the odd game. 

    Unlike Giggs, Terry and a select few others, Carragher has not gotten better with age, and it's led to him settling for a bench role at best for Liverpool this season. Kenny Dalglish curiously opted to start Carra against Everton Saturday in the FA Cup semifinal, and it backfired when Carragher's poor clearance gave the red-hot Nikica Jelavic a glorious opportunity to open the scoring in the 24th minute, which he did. 

    When Carragher has played this season, he hasn't been the defensive stalwart he once was. Though he clearly has more heart than anyone on the pitch, he's struggling to keep his form up with a lack of game time. 

    Everyone knows Carra's playing career is winding down, and make no mistake, he'll end it with Liverpool. If it happens this year, Reds fans and players alike will be hoping it ends with a League and FA Cup double. 

Andy Carroll at Least Makes It Count

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    Steven Gerrard lauded his striker Andy Carroll after No. 9 headed home the winner just four minutes from time to book Liverpool a second trip to Wembley for the FA Cup Final. 

    "That's what we bought him for."

    Well, that's not entirely true. 

    Liverpool paid £35 million for Carroll last January hoping he would send them to finals and win them trophies, but they were also banking on a few more goals in between. 

    So far, Carroll's return of just 10 goals in 51 appearances is not what Reds fans were hoping for, but almost all of the goals have come in big moments. 

    The winner against Everton. The stoppage time winner against Blackburn in midweek after Liverpool had been down to 10 men for over an hour. The first goal in a 2-0 win at Goodison earlier in the season. He scored Liverpool's third goal in the 6-1 win over Brighton in the FA Cup fifth round—the goal that really ended the match. 

    His first two goals against Manchester City last season, and he also set up Dirk Kuyt's winner over Manchester United in the FA Cup fourth round this season. 

    Carroll hasn't scored near enough goals for Liverpool yet, but at least when he does score, he waits until the best possible moment. 

Roberto Mancini Employing Reverse Psychology?

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    Roberto Mancini and Manchester City were thrown a lifeline in midweek when Wigan claimed a famous 1-0 victory over Manchester United, closing the gap at the top of the table to just five points. 

    But Mancini isn't so naive as to believe his side still has a shot at the Premier League title this season. 

    "It is impossible. The title race is finished. It is true."

    That's one way to motivate your team, boss. 

    If Everton can frustrate the Red Devils next weekend at Old Trafford and City beat bottom-club Wolves, the gap will be just three points when United come to the Etihad in two weeks. 

    That's not totally unfathomable, Mancini. Everton can be disciplined when they really want to be, and they actually have something to play for this year given they sit one point above Liverpool in the table. 

    Then Manchester United have to take a trip to a revitalized Sunderland on the last weekend of the season, and they won't have it so easy this year without Sir Alex Ferguson's pet Steve Bruce in charge at the Stadium of Light. 

    So don't give up just yet, Mancini. 

    Of course, if Ashley Young keeps flailing about and winning United penalties, then yes, it really is over. 

Who's Really to Blame for Diving?

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    For the second weekend in a row, Ashley Young saw his theatrical dive rewarded with a penalty to Manchester United, this time against his former side Aston Villa. The Red Devils went on to win 4-0. 

    Diving is sadly becoming a bigger part of the game, but is it really the players who should be blamed?

    Referee Mark Halsey could not have been closer to the incident when Young flopped spectacularly over Ciaran Clark's barely outstretched leg, yet he blew his whistle and pointed to the spot before Young could even plead the injustice of it all. 

    So really, the referee is the one who's wrong. Stop blaming the players and calling them cheats, and look at the referees who fall for it when thousands of fans much farther away can make the right call. 

    Young was trying to help his team win, and it's only cheating if the official is foolish enough to fall for it. 

    If Halsey doesn't call a penalty, then it doesn't affect the game. 

    Players are out there doing whatever they can to win these days. Diving, feigning injury, trying to get other players booked. If the officials continue to allow players to dictate the game, then we're in for a lot more of this. 

Maybe There Is Such a Thing as Football Karma

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    According to Jose Mourinho, Liverpool defeated his Chelsea side in the 2005 Champions League semifinal thanks to a "ghost goal" from Luis Garcia. 

    Well, Mourinho may not appreciate it, but Chelsea finally got their payback for that against Tottenham on Sunday. 

    Video evidence was inconclusive on Garcia's goal, but it was perfectly clear in this match. How anyone could believe that Juan Mata's shot crossed the goal line is beyond me, but perhaps fate decided to fall in Chelsea's favor this time.

    Or, Martin Atkinson just decided to make a truly horrible call, which in turn, changed the game and put Chelsea in charge on their way to the FA Cup Final. So it's not like the stakes were high or anything.