Sometimes the titles to these recaps write themselves! Jose gave four players an opportunity who either by desire or necessity would like to become more prominent parts of our squad going forward. None really disappointed—three played a direct role in the goals that put us out front—twice—and, in the end, despite one moment of shaky defending and another of truly horrendous refereeing, we advance to a Cup Semi-Final. Playing for a trophy.
So the manager’s nod went out to Dele, Bale, Winks and Doherty (as well as Sanchez and Davies but neither can really anticipate being anything more than squad level replacements for entrenched starters) and in order here’s what they did. Dele was active, engaged, somewhat creative, and, on a different night—say, two years ago or so—could have easily have scored twice. Kane found him on a nice little through ball for a left-footed attempt in the first half—nice save by the keeper. He took the initiative to try a twenty-yard screamer a little later, and was thwarted by a save nearly as good. And then in the second half he was inches away from controlling a nice looped pass for what would have been a sitter. He wasn’t flawless—there were some awkward touches—but on the whole played quite well, and was almost Grealish-like in drawing contact and winning free-kicks.
Bale was what Bale now is—he tries to create through means other than his formerly world-class pace, he disrupts the defence trying to play out, he will take free kicks, to mixed success—and last night he was precise on a well-taken header for the first goal.
It was still a good performance. But for the goal, when both he and Davinson Sanchez were too passive—Sanchez in not closing down the passer, Doherty in letting the goal scorer free—I thought our right-back did well. There was aggression from both of the fullbacks cutting off Stoke’s attempts to flip the field—as well as from Hojbjerg which is more standard order from midfield. Aurier and he are not perfect—we know that better than any—but both are legitimate options going forward depending on health, fatigue and the quality of the opposition.
And Harry Winks was a deserving MOTM. The ball to Bale was exquisite, but aside from that, there was rarely a false note in how he played the game. He was not overly passive but neither was he reckless. He knew that Hojbjerg stood both aside and behind him to serve as both an outlet and protection. He swung the ball quickly and was not opposed to making a run forward or trying the riskier pass. He has a role on this team—surely Mourinho must have seen that. I think the Sissoko/Hojbjerg with either Lo Celso or Ndombele troika will still be necessary against the most aggressive opposition. But with a crowded fixture list of Wolves, Fulham, Leeds, Marine, Villa and Sheffield United before our reverse fixture with Liverpool on the docket, Winks (and Dele) will have several more opportunities to shine.
As for the rest, nobody played great, nobody played bad. Kudos to Ben Davies for the winner—it was the type of shot our backs and midfielders must try occasionally if for no other reason than to test the goalkeeper and keep the defence a bit honest in not swarming Kane, Son and Co. all the time. Son should have had a goal but for the curious offside decision. Kane was typically ruthless on his best chance. Lucas and Lamela were both active and aggressive, as was Sissoko late, in their front-line roles.
Have something to tell us about this article?