It’s so easy to dismiss the Carling Cup as a competition that features just B teams, but anyone who watched Tuesday night’s games may have come away with a renewed sense of optimism. Yes, it’s a cup competition that offers us a chance to watch players we don’t see that often, but it’s still a piece of silverware that all of the participating clubs desperately want to win.
Tuesday night’s games also gave us a chance to reconfirm our doubts, namely:
- Arsenal’s attack is blunt without Robin van Persie,
- Marouane Chamakh is a shadow of the player he once was when he joined Arsenal,
- Andy Carroll doesn’t fit into the style of how Liverpool plays,
- Fernando Torres is going through the worst patch of his career, and
- Saturday’s game against Swansea is a make-or-break game for Blackburn manager Steve Kean.
Of course, we knew that already. But seeing it before our eyes, once again, it reinforced what we know.
For Arsenal, it was a shame that van Persie didn’t play. Manchester City was there for the taking and the Carling Cup (again) offered Arsenal an excellent chance of picking up a piece of silverware. It was a gamble to tell van Persie not to even dress for the game, but if Wenger feels that Arsenal has a better chance to win the Premier League, Champions League or FA Cup, then it’s a risk worth taking. If they end up with nothing at the end of the season, then Wenger’s decision not to play van Persie must be seen as a massive mistake.
As far as positives that can be taken from the game, midfielders Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both had a fantastic performance for the Gunners. It has to be only a matter of time before both of these players are permanent fixtures in an Arsenal side. Hopefully Wenger can find a place for both Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott in the same team?
One piece of brilliance from Edin Dzeko/Adam Johnson/Kun Aguero was enough for Manchester City to unlock Arsenal. While City don’t deserve to be in the semi-final based on the way they were outplayed by Arsenal, it goes to show how important having a clinical goalscorer is to a side.
Liverpool, meanwhile, continue to impress. Despite not winning against Manchester City on Sunday, the Reds have looked marvelous in both of their games against Chelsea. The level of confidence in this team is overpowering, while their passing ability has improved immeasurably. On top of all of that, the team looks incredibly dangerous on the attack and when you see them play, it seems only a matter of time before they’ll score. Bellamy, Leiva and Rodriguez were again impressive. However, there’ll be concerns about the extent of Leiva’s injury after he was stretchered off from Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.
Andy Carroll missing the penalty was the last thing he could possibly need. And what a woeful penalty kick it was. Sadly, for the Liverpool owners, the only two plausible reasons why Carroll should be included in a Liverpool side in the future is if (1) they need a super sub to come on with 10 minutes left in the game to score a winner, or (2) they play an opponent where the only way to beat them is via high balls into the box. Other than those two scenarios, there is no reason to play Carroll in this Liverpool side.
Over at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea is in tatters. The Blues are playing like a lower-table club that is lacking ideas and confidence. For Fernando Torres, meanwhile, he’s a ghost of himself. He’s definitely someone who is not enjoying his job. And he doesn’t seem to have any pride or passion in playing for Chelsea. The best example of this, in my eyes, was the Premier League game against Liverpool on November 20. First, at the start of the second half when Andre Villas-Boas decided to bring Daniel Sturridge on, not Torres, to rescue Chelsea, you could see Torres laughing on the bench. Whether it was about that decision or a joke from one of his teammates, it’s unclear. But it’s definitely not the attitude befitting a professional who is “in the zone.”
Secondly, after that game ended (where Chelsea lost 2-1 to Liverpool), you would think that Torres — who came on as a late substitute — would be devastated by his team losing a crucial league game. Instead, when the final whistle blew, Torres could be seen beaming and walked over and joked and laugh with his former Liverpool teammates. While I’m sure that some of these players are his friends, it’s not the type of behavior I would like to see on the pitch. Chelsea, his club, is his priority. If he wants to spend time and joke with his friends, this should be done off the pitch in private quarters, not where Chelsea fans can see him.
I didn’t get to see the Cardiff against Blackburn game on television, but from the reports on the radio, Blackburn was awful. Just as Arsene Wenger made a calculated decision to not play van Persie, Blackburn manager Steve Kean did the same Tuesday night by deciding not to start his A team. Kean’s focus is obviously on Premier League survival, which is a shame in a way because a Carling Cup semi-final spot could have prolonged his managerial career at Ewood Park. Blackburn’s 2-0 defeat is key because Kean no longer has the Carling Cup to fall back on as an example of a positive for Rovers. All the club has left is their Premier League record to live and die by.
Blackburn’s game on Saturday at home against Swansea is a must-win for Kean. Normally I would say that Blackburn would have a tough chance of winning on Saturday, but I believe they can get three points. In the somber game between Swansea and Aston Villa on Sunday, the Swans came up against a Villa side that were, at times, vicious in their tackles. If Blackburn can play the same type of ugly, negative and physical football that Villa showed, then Rovers can win this one.
The quarter-finals of the Carling Cup finish tonight after Manchester United play Crystal Palace at Old Trafford (2:45pm ET on FOX Soccer Plus and FOXSoccer.tv). After the game ends, it should be interesting to see what the draw for the Carling Cup semi-final will look like. Despite previous criticisms by many of the Carling Cup, this year’s tournament is building up to be a fascinating competition with a resurgent Liverpool, a powerful Manchester City, the underdog of Cardiff and either a Manchester United or Crystal Palace as the final team.