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Carling Cup Turning Into a Fascinating Encounter With Familiar Storylines

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 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.

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  1. Dani

    December 1, 2011 at 7:42 am

    Carroll needs a loan spell. You can’t have someone who’s that low on confidence leading the attack of a team hoping to make a top 4 and win trophies. Suarez needs an inform striker who can finish all those chances he creates like a Cavani. Surely Dalglish must be having second thoughts about this now? We are so much better when the likes of Bellamy and Maxi play over Carroll.

  2. MG

    November 30, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    “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.”

    Massive mistake? No. A massive mistake was the final minute of the 2011 Carling Cup final. That was a massive mistake. If we don’t win a trophy this season, it isn’t going to come down to resting RVP. RVP was RESTED because a TOP 4 finish is THE aim of the season. Resting RVP ensures he’ll be fit for upcoming Premier League games, or at least helps to ensure it. Who knows what’ll happen or what trophy Arsenal might or might not win this season, but consider this isn’t NOT a model season, the team and everyone supporting the team has their eyes set on continuing the streak of earning a Champions League spot.

  3. James

    November 30, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    If there’s any positive from Blackburn’s loss it will be that Kean will now be held accountable for his league actions. I was all for giving him a shot, but it’s beyond hope now with him in charge. It may already be too late even for someone else.

  4. scrumper

    November 30, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Well that’s the only trophy Chelsea even had a sniff at and it’s a guaranteed end for Teen Wolf Villas-Boas. Abramovich fires managers quite hilariously like Hitler did with his generals after they failed to take Stalingrad in ten minutes or something.

    And to call for that big lump of lard Carroll to be a “super sub” is plain laughable. A super sub is supposed to come and set the game alight. Carroll ambles on and trundles around like a Trojan Horse. He makes Torres look like he already has fifty goals under his belt for the season. He’ll be out on loan at Millwall or Tranmere Rovers at the season’s end.

  5. Jack Tomczuk

    November 30, 2011 at 11:09 am

    I was really pleased by the Arsenal performance last night. Frimpong, Chamberlain. and Coquelin were fantastic against a strong City side. Also agree with Dan Lot, rest for van Persie is much more important than the Carling Cup.

    We need another striker in January, but I doubt Wenger will make the move. In the past, center-back was the position we obviously needed and he didn’t exactly spring to make that move. Plus, he doesn’t like to buy in January. And he probably still has faith in Chamakh and Park.

    • Todd

      November 30, 2011 at 11:27 am

      I agree, I have no real qualms with the way Arsenal played yesterday. Ox simply stole the show, man that kid is impressive. Frimpong in the holding MF deserves praise as well. He’s the same no-nonsense defender as Song, only on a bigger, stronger frame. It took City *starters* to break down the defense, so there’s nothing to be too upset about. Did we ever find out why Kolarov was taken out in the first half? I’m guessing it had something to do with tactics??

      • Jack Tomczuk

        November 30, 2011 at 4:18 pm

        A touchline reporter said that Kolarov sustain a muscle sprain in the pre-match warm-ups and could not continue. Don’t know if that’s just an excuse but that’s what I heard.

  6. Andrew May

    November 30, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Expecting an easy win for united, whatever team they put out, and hoping for cardiff in the semis 🙂

    • Why?

      November 30, 2011 at 5:19 pm

      Maybe not eh?

  7. Dan Lott

    November 30, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Rest for RVP had to be more important than this Cup, IMO. The goal must be to finish in the top four so they can sign top players and thus convince RVP to sign a new contract. Being in the Champions League next year with a squad capable of Silverware seems to be the priority. I doubt he will play in the CL next week either as their spot is secured.

    • MG

      November 30, 2011 at 2:47 pm


  8. AM

    November 30, 2011 at 10:10 am

    As an Arsenal fan… it’s tough to take yesterday’s loss. However, I have to say that the City fans are acting like arrogant pricks now. The banner saying “Van Persie a Blue” was in poor taste. Given that we have sold about 4 starters to City, I think they’ve definitely become one of our more hated rivals.

    Despite the loss, it’s great to be able to see homegrown talent do well instead of mercenaries. Every team needs to buy talent but City have just taken this to extremes. Players like Wilshere, Frimpong, Van Persie, Gibbs and Song are honestly the best thing about Arsenal. Guys who bleed Arsenal red…. It was amazing to see Frimpong squaring up against Nasri letting him know how Arsenal fans feel.

    • Why?

      November 30, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      Home grown talent? Where? Only one of the entire Arsenal team was English and they had only one player that wasn’t bought, Frimpong!
      Wilshere was poached from Luton Van Persie was bought! Gibbs was poached from Wimbledon and is only 8 months younger than Micah Richards but not in the same league! Song was also a purchase so what the hell you’re on about God knows, oh and none of those played last night.
      I’m Sick of moronic Arsenal fans talking rubbish. It was amazing watching Nasri go through to the Semi finals in a team with mostly second, third and fourth choice players while letting Arsenal fans know he made the right decision one that will more likely than not end up with him having trophies come may!!!!

      • Dan Lott

        November 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm

        I consider myself an Arsenal fan and I don’t fault City for the fact that they have money to burn. Fans of any club wouldn’t be bitching if the Sheik had bought them instead. And City are facing plenty of hate. I even have suspicions how they ended up the “Group of Death” when some of their loudest critics are the established clubs like Bayern. I do find that there are tasteless supporters of every club. Arsenal chants during the Spurs match…i can’t even go there. City fans should take the opportunity to be above such petty crap and let what happens on the pitch speak for them. Why rub it in ? You are winning. The only problem I have with City’s spending is the Adeboyure situation. I know I spelled his name wrong. Spurs fans will attack me for this, but they are winning with a player they admit they can’t afford.

  9. ctred

    November 30, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Penalty kick aside – Carroll had a phenomenal game – he owned the air, help up play well, showed great close control and made great passes all over the pitch. He tracked back well and did good against corners. I have no doubt Carroll will come good for the Reds

    • SoccerLimey

      November 30, 2011 at 12:42 pm

      “Carroll had a phenomenal game” ? He was horrible ! I’m not sure what game you were watching but most of the time he looked like a high school player out there. He was out of position way too often and his skill on the ball is sadly lacking. Even in holding up the ball, he lacks strength and he is shouldered off the ball much too easily for a man as big as he is. It’s clear why neither Dalglish or Capello see him as a starting player.

      I don’t even think the penalty was that bad. He should have hit it higher but down the middle is a common spot to place it.

      You should take off those Red-tinted spectacles. It’s clouding your common sense.

  10. CTBlues

    November 30, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Wish I could have watched the match because I wanted to see some of the youth get a chance to play, but I’m not a fan of plus most of the Chelsea games are on TV so its not really worth it for me. I don’t see why they couldn’t put it on delay on TV after the Seria A match.

  11. ecron

    November 30, 2011 at 8:29 am

    I’ve kept my love for Carroll as long as possible, being a Newcastle fan, and only want to see him do well. For Liverpool and for England… but this rut he is in is unbearable!

    I think he did better at Newcastle because they played around him, giving him more opportunities. When playing for Liverpool he has to adapt to their system, as they already had a well established way of playing.

    He’s going to be the fourth seed striker and I think it’s going to be a while (if ever) when we see him start a competitive match.

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