Premier League Playback: United’s faltering midfield, ‘Crystal Pulis’ to soar, Boruc’s blunder

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MANCHESTER UNITED’S ENGINE ROOM THE ISSUE

On Sunday in South Wales, Manchester United let in a late goal to Cardiff City as they let another two points slip through their fingers. David Moyes turned away in despair and looked to the ground in disgust.

United didn’t play well, and although it looked like they’d got out of jail with a win until Kim Bo-Kyung’s last-gasp header nicked the Bluebirds a point, the main issue with the reigning champions was in central midfield.

Michael Carrick and Phil Jones, two of United’s more robust and reliable options manning the engine room, were both missing in the fiery cauldron of Wales’ capital city due to injury. And boy, did it show. Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley manned the ship in the center of the park and they were overrun by forever plugging leaks sprung open by newly-promoted Cardiff. Unable to contain, tackle or cajole their team into life from the center of the pitch, Fellaini and Cleverly all too often went for the easy ball and played it safe in possession as the heat maps below show. That stunted United’s attacking impetus and allowed the Bluebirds to garner belief they could fight their way back into the game, Cardiff’s last-gasp equalizer had been coming due to midfield battle being lost.

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Click to enlarge: Marouane Fellaini’s passes vs. Cardiff City. Made no forward passes in the attacking third. (Source: Opta)
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Click to enlarge: Tom Cleverley’s passes vs. Cardiff City. Only one of his 42 passes was a successful forward pass in the opposition half. (Source: Opta)

Even Carrick and Jones have had their critics in recent seasons as United have never fully replaced their illustrious midfield generals of the past. Current players Anderson, Shinji Kagawa and going further back to Owen Hargreaves, they’ve all failed to recreate United’s indestructible machine of Keane, Scholes, Butt and the marauding menaces of Paul Ince and Bryan Robson before them.

Moyes needs to add a midfield enforcer to his squad in January, as United are too often relinquishing the middle third to teams who have hungrier, more tenacious and more committed central midfielders willing to run themselves into the ground for the crest on their shirts. I just don’t see that from any of the current crop of United’s central men, including Fellaini and Cleverley after their lackluster displays against Cardiff.

Fellaini and Cleverley aren’t bad players but they’re both afraid of failure and scared of taking people on. Between them they didn’t even attempt a dribble on Sunday and for so long United have had perfect dovetailing central midfielders, when one attacks, the other sits and vice versa. Anybody who watched Keane and Ince in their prime will tell you how beautiful that is to watch. The duo of Fellaini and Cleverley played together in the middle for the first time at Cardiff and you could tell that, they had no cohesion, no link and were all out sea.

Will they ever get the chance to shine in central midfield together again? After that combined performance, probably not. Back to the drawing board for Moyes.

Premier League Schedule – Week 12

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-0 Southampton Recap and watch here
Cardiff 2-2 Manchester United Recap and watch here
Everton 3-3 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-2 Swansea Recap and watch here
Hull 0-1 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Man City 6-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Newcastle United 2-1 Norwich Recap and watch here
Stoke 2-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
West Brom 2-2 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
West Ham 0-3 Chelsea Recap and watch here

RED CARD CONTROVERSY

Let’s break down three controversial moments from the weekend, as two red cards were dished out incorrectly and one should have been given in the Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool.

Some of these decisions were incredibly bad, and given the exasperating precedent set by referees chief Mike Riley last week — when he apologized to West Brom manager Steve Clarke for a last gasp penalty handed to Chelsea that cost the Baggies a win — plenty of PL managers will be hoping to receive an apology via the post.

Mr. Riley, get your quill and parchment ready, you’ll have some serious apologizing to do this weekend after three horrendous mistakes. The floodgates have opened, Riley should’ve never apologized as now he’ll never stop apologetically nodding his head in agreement and offering his hand out in reconciliation.

Too many of the big decisions are being called incorrectly as referees come under more criticism in the PL. Here’s my take on three of the worst calls (because, in truth, there were so many more) this weekend.

  • Wes Brown’s red card vs. Stoke City – NO

The phantom tackle of Brown baffles me every time I see it. It isn’t, wasn’t and will never be a red card. Gus Poyet was incensed at the decision as he tore his puffy coat off in frustration, screamed at the officials and stomped his feet in frustration. Brown slid in and made a perfect, yet slightly lunging tackle. He was in control as he disposed Stoke’s Charlie Adam and may have faintly grazed the Scotsman as he slide through. This cost Sunderland any chance of grabbing a point or more at the Britannia.

  • Yannick Bolasie’s red card vs. Hull City – NO

Yes Bolasie does go over the top and lunges into this one, but he’s on the edge of the box and scrapping for every ball as two newly-promoted teams battle for a crucial three points 12 minutes from time. Out of all three, this decisions is the most sane, but it still isn’t right. Bolasie slips before the tackle is made, Jake Livermore is already going to ground and has also raised his foot and at worst it’s a yellow card.

  • Kevin Mirallas’ potential red card vs. Liverpool – YES

This has to be one of the worst tackles I’ve seen in the modern era. Yet Belgian winger Kevin Mirallas somehow stayed on the pitch as he lunged with a high foot and aimed to decapitate Luis Suarez’ right leg at the knee. The ball was bouncing up as the two players clashed by Suarez got to the ball first, knocked it away and was clattered recklessly into by Mirallas wild and dangerous right foot with his studs showing. An instant red card was the only option here. How it wasn’t… I’ll never know. Seems like Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers agrees.

“I thought Mirallas should have been sent off. He caught him [Suarez] on the back of his knee and that can end your career. It was awful jumping in like that.” Mirallas also agreed… wait, what? Straight up, here’s the evidence.

We can’t finish this section without the highlights to the Merseyside derby, I asked if that was “the best Everton vs. Liverpool battle in history?”  Judge for yourself by watching the highlights below.

CRYSTAL PULIS – WILL THE EAGLES SOAR TO SAFETY?

Everyone expects us to get relegated and it will be nice to prove people wrong. I like climbing hills and this will be a tough job but one I will relish – New Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis

Palace dispatched Hull City 1-0 on Saturday, watch above, as the Eagles lifted themselves off the bottom of the table as their new manager arrives amongst a sea of optimism.

Earlier on Saturday the South London side announced former Stoke City boss Tony Pulis is their new manager. I believe that’s a fantastic decision. Just three points from safety after that huge win, Pulis’ side has given themselves a fighting chance of climbing out of the relegation zone. Expect them to grab it with both hands.

This is a fact: Palace will be a horrendous side to play against for the rest of the season. Think Pulis’ Stoke City on steroids. The Eagles have something to prove, as does Pulis after his seven year spell at the Potters came to an abrupt end last season when he failed to kick them on to the next level. That burning desire to prove everyone wrong will create destruction and distress for every team they come up against in their remaining 26 PL games of the season. The Eagles aren’t ready to land in English soccer’s second-tier, in fact, they’ve yet to even take off in the top flight. You’ve been warned, Pulis’ first game in charge away at Norwich will showcase that.

ROAD WINS SEAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

If Manchester City aim to keep obliterating teams at home, watch above and shield your eyes Spurs fans, but struggle to snatch a point on the road, a second PL title in three years won’t be heading to the Etihad Stadium this season.

On Sunday City smashed Tottenham — I mean, completely knocked them out of the stadium and into the parking lot — 6-0 as they flexed their title credentials impressively. But if they keep losing on the road to basement boys and continue to augment their splendid home displays by hemorrhaging points on their travels, Pellegrini’s dream of delivering a Championship are dumbfounded.

The stats back my slightly snarky statement up as City have started this season with a poor record of W1-D1-L4 on the road. In the last 10 seasons, no PL champion has lost more than five games away from home in their title winning season… City have already lost four matches from six on the road this campaign.

What is the answer I hear you cry?

Plenty of foreign stars feeling intimidated in hostile atmospheres across a plethora of rough and ready English cities could be a reason. Another could simply be that they prefer to score early and settle their nerves in games and away from home the opposition are more likely to have a go at City and score first. The Citizens resilience is then called into question and so far they’ve failed to hit back when they’ve been dealt a blow away from home. If other sides get a foot hold at home against City, they might as well pull their goalkeeper and put the handbrake on because Pellegrini’s men look devoid of ideas when they go behind. When they’re on form Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo’s burgeoning partnership can rip any team apart, we’ve spoken about that before in PL Playback after City demolished United… it seems as though the duo that initially showed promise has now blossomed into a full-blown goal scoring tandem of tricks, flicks and boat loads of goals. Aguero has 10 goals, Negredo has five and City have 34 goals in 12 games.

But this struggling form away from home has to be addressed and contrary to popular belief, it isn’t a Pellegrini-ism. It’s been going on for years. Many have put City’s struggles on the road down to their new Chilean manager being out of his comfort zone in unfamiliar surroundings at the Britannnia Stadium, Villa Park or the Stadium of Light. What a load of old tosh.

In the four seasons before the current campaign, since City became perennial title contenders, their away record reads as follows.

2012-13 – W9-D6-L4 | 2011-12 – 10-4-5 | 2010-11 – 8-4-7 | 2009-10 – 6-9-4

No team has won the Premier League title having lost four of their first 11 games since 1968… the last team to do that and win the league was… Manchester City. If they pick up their away form and continue to blow teams away at the Etihad, they won’t be far off a historic repeat.

City’s manager Pellegrini isn’t worried by those stats and said the following with a cheeky grin on his face: “I don’t believe in statistics in football. I believe football has some relation with mathematics but not always. If you win all the games from now until the end, maybe we will win the Premier League.”

BORUC, LLORIS RED FACED AS ‘KEEPERS PRESSURIZED TO PLAY

During a debate on the BBC following the weekends action, former Newcastle and England goalscoring legend Alan Shearer had this to say about the new task handed to many PL ‘keepers.

“Goalkeepers are more footballers now than at any other time,” Shearer said. “They’re part of the back four.”

I’m not trying to defend Southampton’s goalkeeper Artur Boruc for his embarrassing blunder, watch above, but his problems have come from being a ‘keeper asked to play the ball with his feet and become a part of the defense, when his main job was always to keep the ball out of the net.

In the modern era, ‘keepers have become a fifth defender and are encouraged by many managers to get involved and keep possession of the ball rather than lump it aimlessly up field every time it’s sent back to them.

On Saturday in Saints’ biggest game of the season so far, Boruc tried three ‘Cruyff turns’ in his own box and lost out to Olivier Giroud who easily tapped home and left an embarrassed and livid Boruc cursing on the floor. That goal put his Southampton side on the back foot and cost them any real chance of upsetting the league-leaders at the Emirates and helping the Saints leapfrog them into top spot. But ever-since Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino arrived at the South Coast club, Boruc has been taking more risks with the ball at his feet and he’s encouraged to do so. If that’s what the manager wants, mistakes like this will happen. Southampton keep the ball better than almost any team in the league and that starts with Boruc’s patient, yet dangerous, build up from the back.

(MORE – FULL PREMIER LEAGUE STANDINGS)

Spurs were also the masters of their own downfall with a goalkeeping error after just 13 seconds against Man City in their humiliating defeat. Hugo Lloris’ mistake was a little different to Boruc’s as he miskicked the ball straight to City’s attackers who then capitalized brilliantly on a skewed clearance. But it was almost as if Lloris held back from giving the ball an almighty punt and was hoping his short kick would find a Spurs teammate and keep the ball in Tottenham’s possession. The Frenchman is the best ‘sweeper-keeper’ in the league and regularly launches off his line to become a defender and play the ball out of danger.

Goalkeepers in the PL should get back to doing that.

Keeping it out of their goal and giving it a bloody good whack upfield to make sure the ball is as far away from danger for as long as possible, that’s their job, right? Yet Boruc and Lloris are encouraged to play from the back by their managers, so mistakes like those they made at the weekend will happen. Ultimately they were bad individual errors but if their sides want possession from the back, ‘keepers shouldn’t be lambasted for giving the ball away or getting caught in possession. Look how often it happens to the outfield players they’re expected to emulate… Think about it.

Still at least Boruc saw the funny side of it… Check out the instagram picture he posted a few hours after the game, the caption says it all. Hilarious. Well, except if you’re a Saints fan…

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Premier League Playback comes out every Monday and takes an alternative look at the weekends action.

West Brom – Chelsea: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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West Brom – Chelsea: The Blues are in desperate need of a strong rebound when they visit The Hawthorns on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET, on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WEST BROM – CHELSEA STREAM LIVE

The Baggies, on the other hand, are simply hoping to collect their first point of the season after suffering a 3-0 defeat to Leicester City on the opening day of the 2020-21 season and following that up with a 5-2 beatdown at the hands of Everton last weekend.

As far as favorable matchups go, facing the 20th-place side a week after losing to defending champions Liverpool is quite timely for Chelsea.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of West Brom – Chelsea this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: West Brom – Chelsea (INJURY REPORT)

West Brom – QUESTIONABLE: Ahmed Hegazi (thigh), Kamil Grosicki (back), Hal Robson-Kanu (leg) | OUT: Kieran Gibbs (suspension), Conor Gallagher (loan rules), Kenneth Zohore (calf)

Chelsea – QUESTIONABLE: Christian Pulisic (hamstring), Cesar Azpilicueta (thigh) | OUT: Hakim Ziyech (knee), Andrea Christensen (suspension)


What they’re saying: West Brom – Chelsea

West Brom manager Slaven Bilic, on struggling to sign players: “We don’t have a huge budget, that is why we are trying to be creative and lucky. That’s not easy but we are trying. … We have to do it to maintain a good chance.”

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, on Thiago Silva: “It is exciting for us because he has had just over a week training with us. It was a perfect 60 minutes for him tonight. He will show the qualities he has. Of course, he will get fitter and better. He also gave us something for me on the night in the dressing room and on the pitch of a leader with authority in terms of his demands on others. He can’t speak the language but at the minute that’s not even a problem because his presence and the way he commands people around him is already showing that to me in training and in our game tonight.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

West Brom (+750) represent one of the biggest underdogs — or, opportunities, depending on how you look at it — of the still-young PL season. There’s not much to be won by betting on Chelsea (-280). Even the draw (+400) is pretty far out there.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: West Brom – Chelsea

Barring some unforeseen circumstances — for example, a 12th-minute red card — it’s virtually impossible to see West Brom getting anything from this game. They’ve been incredibly poor defensively through two games, and they’re yet to face a side with anything close to the firepower which the Blues possess. West Brom 1-3 Chelsea.


How to watch West Brom – Chelsea stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Premier League injuries, 2020-21

Premier League injuries
Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images
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Premier League injuries: With the 2020-21 Premier League season set to kick off this weekend, it’s time to take a look at the players who might be unavailable for the opening weekend.

[ MORE: How to watch PLTV on Peacock ]

Prior to every matchweek of the 2020-21 season, we’ll update this Premier League injuries page with the latest news and update, so make sure to check back regularly to see how your favorite — or least-favorite — club is getting on.

Note: Any player listed for COVID-19 reasons — whether a positive test or additional precautions — will always be deemed “questionable” until they make their return to action.

Arsenal injuries

QUESTIONABLE: David Luiz (neck), Kieran Tierney (groin) | OUT: Gabriel Martinelli (knee), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh), Pablo Mari (ankle), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (calf), Calum Chambers (knee)

Aston Villa injuries

OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)

Brighton & Hove Albion injuries

OUT: Yves Bissouma (suspension), Jose Izquierdo (knee), Florian Andone (knee), Christian Walton (ankle)

Burnley injuries

QUESTIONABLE: James Tarkowski (ankle), Ashley Barnes (undisclosed), Robbie Brady (ribs), Jay Rodriguez (foot) | OUT: Ben Mee (thigh), Johann Berg Gudmundsson (knee), Jack Cork (ankle)

Chelsea injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Christian Pulisic (hamstring), Cesar Azpilicueta (thigh) | OUT: Hakim Ziyech (knee), Andrea Christensen (suspension)

Crystal Palace injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Jairo Riedewald (undisclosed), Christian Benteke (ankle) | OUT: James Tomkins (thigh), Nathan Ferguson (knee), Patrick van Aanholt (shoulder), Gary Cahill (thigh), Connor Wickham (undisclosed), Scott Dann (undisclosed)

Everton injuries

OUT: Mason Holgate (ankle), Cenk Tosun (knee), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (calf), Jarrad Branthwaite (ankle), Jonas Lossi (back)

Fulham injuries

None

Leeds United injuries

OUT: Gaetano Berardi (knee), Adam Forshaw (groin), Pablo Hernandez (groin)

Leicester City injuries

OUT: Ricardo Pereira (knee), Jonny Evans (thigh), Filip Benkovic (groin), Wilfred Ndidi (groin)

Liverpool injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Jordan Henderson (thigh), Joe Gomez (knee) | OUT: Joel Matip (undisclosed), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee),

Manchester City injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Ilkay Gundogan (COVID-19) | OUT: Bernardo Silva (thigh), Sergio Aguero (knee), Joao Cancelo (foot), Oleksandr Zinchenko (undisclosed)

Manchester United injuries

OUT: Axel Tuanzebe (ankle), Phil Jones (knee), Sergio Romero (undisclosed)

Newcastle United injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Allan Saint-Maximin (ankle), Jamal Lewis (eye) | OUT: Matty Longstaff (thigh), Martin Dubravka (ankle), Fabian Schar (shoulder), Paul Dummett (thigh), Dwight Gayle (knee)

Sheffield United injuries

OUT: John Egan (suspension), Lys Mousset (ankle), Simon Moore (finger)

Southampton injuries

OUT: Nathan Redmond (foot)

Tottenham Hotspur injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Sergio Reguilon (ankle) | OUT: Gareth Bale (knee), Japhet Tanganga (thigh)

West Bromwich Albion injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Ahmed Hegazi (thigh), Kamil Grosicki (back), Hal Robson-Kanu (leg) | OUT: Kieran Gibbs (suspension), Conor Gallagher (loan rules), Kenneth Zohore (calf)

West Ham United injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Issa Diop (COVID-19), Josh Cullen (COVID-19), Mark Noble (toe), Sebastien Haller (thigh)

Wolverhampton Wanderers injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Fernando Marcal (undisclosed) | OUT: Jonny (knee)

UEL roundup: AC Milan, Celtic, Rangers reach last round of qualifying

Europa League results
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Europa League results: AC Milan, Celtic and Rangers were all victorious in the third round of UEFA Europa League qualifying on Thursday, advancing to the playoff round — the final round — on Oct. 1.

[ MORE: Son to the rescue as Spurs advance in UEL qualifying (video) ]

AC Milan 3-2 Bodo/Glimt

Hakan Calhanoglu scored twice — once in each half, including the game-winning goal in the 50th minute — as Milan did just enough to knock out Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt.

Lorenzo Colombo got the other goal for Stefano Pioli’s side, with Bodo/Glimt tallies bookending the Italians’ three.

Riga 0-1 Celtic

Celtic’s progression into the playoff round was far more dramatic, and uncertain. Neil Lennon’s side found itself level at 0-0 as they entered the 90th minute. Exra-time, and maybe even penalties, seemed likely.

Mohamed Elyounoussi had other ideas. It wasn’t the most visually pleasing goal scored on Thursday, but Elyounoussi’s bouncing, first-time finish had just enough on it to evade the goalkeeper and hit the back of the net.

Willem II 0-4 Rangers

As for the other side of Glasgow, Rangers cruised past Dutch side Willem II and were just about through to the next round before halftime. James Tavernier converted from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute, followed three minutes later by a goal from Ryan Kent.

Filip Helander made it 3-0 in the 55th, and Connor Goldson finished the rout in the 71st. Steven Gerrard’s team was one of the most impressive sides on the day, and looked ready for a season-long battle for the Scottish Premiership title. Having played one more game than their local rivals, Rangers currently lead Celtic by a single point.

Notable Europa League results

Shkendija 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur (FULL RECAP)
Mura 1-5 PSV Eindhoven
Wolfsburg 2-0 Desna Chernihiv
Sporting CP 1-0 Aberdeen

Notable Europa League playoff matchups

Tottenham Hotspur v Maccabi Haifa
Rio Ave v AC Milan
Sarajevo v Celtic
Rangers v Galatasaray
Rosenborg v PSV Eindhoven
AEK Athens v Wolfsburg
Sporting CP v LASK

League Cup: Liverpool win 7-2; Man City survive and advance

League Cup - Liverpool
Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
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A roundup of League Cup third round results on Thursday, as Liverpool and Man City booked their places among the final 16 teams…

[ MORE: Edouard Mendy to Chelsea: What does it mean for Kepa, Blues’ defense? ]

Lincoln City 2-7 Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp fielded a team of most of his seldom used players, and had virtually no issues getting past League One side Lincoln. Xherdan Shaqiri opened the scoring in the ninth minute, and he did so in truly fantastic free-kick fashion.

Takumi Minamino scored twice — once either side of halftime — beginning with his first-time, curled beauty in the 18th minute to make it 2-0. The Japanese international appears to have stockpiled plenty of confidence to force his way into the Reds’ star-studded first team with greater regularity.

From there, Liverpool were off to the races. Curtis Jones bagged a brace in the 32nd and 36th minutes, followed the second from Minamino to make it 5-0 after 46 minutes. Lincoln hit back right on the hour mark, but Marko Grujic restored the five-goal lead just five minutes later.

The Imps clawed back another goal just a minute later, but an 89th-minute tally from Divock Origi ensured the Reds would triumph by the five-goal margin.

Up next for Liverpool is a heavyweight fourth-round showdown, at home against Arsenal.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Reyna to Liverpool; Jorginho to Arsenal ]

Man City 2-1 Bournemouth

Pep Guardiola’s men were far from full stretch, and far from their best, en route to a 2-1 victory over recently relegated Bournemouth. With as many as six first-team regulars given the rare night off, City found themselves level at 1-1 with the final 15 minutes approaching. U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper Zack Steffen was one of the backups to feature.

Fortunately for City, Phil Foden has stepped forward in recent outings and asserted himself a star of the present — no longer of the future — and reaffirmed his ascent with a well-place winner in the 75th minute.

It was one of the youngsters, 17-year-old Liam Delap, who opened the scoring in the 18th minute, when he hammered a left-footed strike into the upper-90 of the far post. Foden provided the diagonal through ball for Delap and picked up the assist on the play. The lead lasted barely four minutes, though, before Sam Surridge had drawn the Cherries back to level terms.

Up next in the League Cup, City will visit Burnley in the fourth round.

Bristol City 0-3 Aston Villa

A pair of new signings — Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traore — bagged goals, alongside the opener from Anwar El Ghazi, for Dean Smith’s Villa, to make it a comfortable 3-0 victory over Championship side Bristol City.

Villa will host Championship side Stoke City in the next round.