We didn’t play bad. And we played hard. It was just this thing about finishing and some bad luck to hit the post and bar, and then well you figured Kane and Son would come on and win it. They did—but the guy who really won it is the one fast becoming not only our most entertaining player but our most valuable.
The instant Ndombele stepped on the pitch you could sense the openings that would come. That for all of Lucas and Lamela’s hard work—and I thought both played rather well, particularly the Argentine, we had just put a player of entirely different pedigree on the field.
So there came the possession with the ball pinging all over which Tanguy started and then out to Winks—who had skyed one over everything just a minute or two before—and this time with his left foot he couldn’t miss. Another strong possession and this time Ndombele was presented the ball and he couldn’t miss. And the last one was a gorgeous cherry on top and simply the type of goal no one else on this squad has been scoring. And might, with a couple of exceptions, never score.
So our best three got a nice warm-up for a massive game on Thursday—Liverpool more vulnerable than they’ve been in at least three years and our boys starting to find some form again. Davies who was probably our best defender last night got a knock—let’s hope it won’t take him out for too long. Mourinho may have to decide between a three in back without him—presumably Alderweireld, Dier and Rodon—or to just play Reguilon and Aurier (we hope) at fullback and go with a four man defence, in which case one of Sissoko or Winks may start along with Tanguy and Hojbjerg in the middle. Tanganga seemed to be both partly at fault for the goal and not as assured going forward as we would like—Sanchez was more to blame for the goal with a poor deflected clearance but recovered well after that, Toby simply doesn’t seem anywhere near the peak form of two or three years ago and will be consigned mostly to cup play for the rest of this season.
I thought Winks had a lot of good moments if still making the wayward pass or two and missing his first good chance entirely—the goal was still a deserved reward. This was the type of game where Sissoko can excel—but I don’t think he is clinical or savvy enough going forward to justify a bigger role in bigger games. As mentioned both Lamela and Lucas were quite active if still part of a team that failed miserably at every chance but one before the cavalry was summoned—Lamela, in particular, played like someone who has missed too much action due to Covid and is trying to prove a point.
Bale had a lot of good moments accompanied by poor finishes until his class finally told just before half—it was nice to see him last the entire 90 minutes and one still suspects he could have a pivotal contribution to make in a variety of key games over the next four months.
Vinicius has had some glorious moments in other cup games—not last night. Too many sloppy offsides, a few good pass attempts but several misfires and losses of possession—he was subpar throughout and was taken off rather early as a result. Son remains cold—this drought has lasted for at least a month now, and while Kane failed at a couple of good chances the intent was there, he was part of the buildup leading to the match winner, and we can only hope he has some magic stored up for the Reds on Thursday.
As to the star of the evening, I will make a very bold prediction. Within the next year and a half—which will take us through the Euros and also both this league/cup season as well as next—he will become the best player in the Premier League. Right now I would rate him behind only the troika of De Bruyne, Fernandes and Grealish among midfielders in a group that includes Maddison, Mount, James Rodriguez and, this season, probably Gundogan—but I think his potential goes way beyond every one of them. This is his first full season in English football and he’s just turned 24—the sky is literally the limit.
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