Capital One Cup roundup: Arsenal needs penalties, Swansea seen out by Championship club

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Nicklas Bendtner played. That’s all you need to know about how seriously Arsene Wenger took this game. Of course, when the lineups were handed in and the whistle blew, I’m sure he cared, but given the team the Arsenal boss picked for his club’s Capital One Cup match at The Hawthorns, he certainly seemed unwilling to risk much to come out victorious.

Thomas Eisfeld started behind Bendtner, ahead of Isaac Hayden and Mikel Arteta in midfield. Serge Gnabry and Ryo Miyachi started wide, and Lukas Fabianski got the call in goal. If it wasn’t for a back line of Carl Jenkinson, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal, Wednesday could have been a complete punt.

Instead, Arsenal actually scored first, with the 20-year-old Eisfeld opening his Arsenal account before Saido Berahino brought Steve Clarke’s team even in the 71st minute. But throughout the next 49 minutes — as West Brom pushed for the win while Wenger brought on Chuba Akpom, Kristoffer Olsson, and Héctor Bellerin — neither team could avoid penalty kicks, where Craig Dawson and Morgan Amalfitano misses put the Gunners through, 1-1 (3-4).

During yesterday’s wrap up, we talked about the eye-popping depth Manchester City and Tottenham have acquired, referencing what changed teams would look like for Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal. While United made some changes and Liverpool experimented but picked their best, the Gunners swapped out their whole front-six. The result wasn’t a team with Stevan Jovetic and Sandro-esque talents. Beyond Mikel Arteta, a lot of young, raw, unproven players got the call.

[MORE: City, Spurs depth on display, Ball gets first win on Capital One Cup Tuesday.]

It wasn’t too long ago that such changes used to define the League Cup. Manchester United and Arsenal used to start their C-teams. But things have changed. Perhaps it happened when José Mourinho took the competition so seriously during his first run at Chelsea. Perhaps it’s a function of the huge depth vast resources offer the Premier League’s elite.

Regardless, the top teams are rarely going full Arsenal and playing all their kids. Even if Arsene Wenger did so today.

source: Getty Images
Last year, Michael Laudrup led Swansea City to League Cup glory in his first year in Wales. This year, Swans are out of the League Cup, losing 3-1 at Birmingham City on Wednesday. (Photo: Getty Images.)

SWANSEA LOSS PROBABLY A GOOD ONE

Any time a Premier League team loses to a lower-division squad, it’s noteworthy. When it’s the holders? Even more so. But Swansea have enough on their plate. Michael Laudrup has a squad that hopes to push on in the Premier League, while early indications are the Welsh side intend to take Europa League quite seriously. It they happen to fall out of the League Cup while doing so? So be it. Bigger fish, and all.

That’s what happened today in the West Midlands, with Swans dealt a 3-1 loss at Birmingham City. A decidedly changed Swansea side made it to halftime nil-nil, but goals from Dan Bunn, Matthew Green, and Tom Adeyemi gave the Blues a 3-0 lead by the 81st minute. Wilfred Bony’s stoppage time consolation proved irrelevant.

Given the team he chose, with only Jonjo Shelvey returning from the team that won at Crystal Palace on Saturday, Laudrup surely expected this could happen. Or maybe he thought a Birmingham team struggling near the bottom of the Championship could still be shown out. Instead, the League Cup holders have made an early exit from this year’s competition.

OTHER RESULTS

  • Newcastle United 2-0 Leeds United: Papiss Cisse and Yoann Gouffran goals on each side of halftime ease the Magpies through.
  • Tranmere Rovers 0-2 Stoke City: Stephen Ireland’s on the scoresheet for his new club, with Peter Crouch adding late insurance in the road win.
  • Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool: We covered that here.
  • All of Tuesday’s results

Money from Wembley replay will “support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years”

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone