Premier League side Saints travel to third-tier Wigan on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET) in the FA Cup quarterfinal knowing that the hosts have already knocked out Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City during their incredible run to the last eight.
Paul Cook’s men will fancy their chances of upsetting a fourth Premier League team in a row to reach the FA Cup semis at Wembley next month, as Southampton sit in the bottom three of the PL table and sacked Mauricio Pellegrino as their manager earlier this week after just five wins in 30 league games.
With Tottenham and Manchester United booking their spot in the last four on Saturday, Wigan remain the lowest ranked team left in the competition.
The main slate of FA Cup action has come to a conclusion, and it has seen a pair of Premier League clubs eliminated from competition.
West Ham was upset by League One leaders Wigan 2-0, with Will Grigg scoring a pair to put the Hammers to bed. David Moyes will be livid, as his comeback bid was dealt a serious blow when a petulant act by left-back Arthur Masuaku saw the Hammers reduced to 10 men. The 25-year-old spit on Wigan’s Nick Powell, well spotted by the referee who was left with no choice but to send Masuaku off just four minutes into the second half. The second Wigan goal was dubious after a penalty was given for a poor handball call on Reese Burke, but it was deserved as the home side was well on top throughout the second half.
Brighton & Hove Albion moved on, but the Premier League side needed a late winner as Glenn Murray broke the scoreless deadlock with Middlesbrough in the 90th minute. Markus Suttner sent in a lofted cross from the left into the box, and Murray was there to strike it viciously with his right foot and bury it into the back of the net for the match-winner. Murray’s last three goals for Brighton have all given them a one-goal lead, and both his FA Cup goals are winners coming in the 87th and 90th minutes.
Southampton topped fellow Premier League adversaries Watford with a goal from Jack Stephens in the fourth minute. Shane Long‘s initial shot was saved by Oresis Karnestis, but the 24-year-old Stephens was there to bury the rebound on his birthday, marking his first goal for Southampton.
Swansea City, already bottom of the Premier League table, was held to a 1-1 draw by League Two side Notts County, pegged back as Jon Stead struck past the half-hour mark to cancel out Luciano Narsingh‘s opener. There was a hint of offside on the Notts goal, but too close to call as the goal stood. Swansea will come home for the replay against the side a full 50 places below them.
Huddersfield was also held at 1-1 by a lower league opponent after former Premier League striker Lukas Jutkiewicz scored for Birmingham City in the 64th minute, canceling out Steve Mounie‘s 21st minute score. Millwall forced a replay with Rochdale after a late equalizer by Ben Thompson in the 90th minute.
Earlier Saturday morning, Leicester City trounced League One club Peterborough 5-1, although that scoreline was maybe harsh on the underdogs who saw three goals smashed in through the first half hour before hanging on for much of the match, even cutting the deficit to two early in the second half.
Tottenham’s fate is still to be decided as they travel to League Two club Newport County, while Liverpool hosts fellow Premier League side West Brom at 2:45 p.m. ET.
Peterborough United 1-5 Leicester City
Middlesbrough 0-1 Brighton & Hove Albion
Notts County 1-1 Swansea City
Southampton 1-0 Watford
Wigan Athletic 2-0 West Ham United
Huddersfield Town 1-1 Birmingham City
Hull City 2-1 Nottingham Forest
Millwall 2-2 Rochdale
MK Dons 0-1 Coventry City
Sheffield United 1-0 Preston North End
Newport County vs. Tottenham (12:30 p.m. ET)
Liverpool vs. West Bromwich Albion (2:45 p.m. ET)
There must be something in the air over England this Saturday morning, because a pair of players have put their teams in disadvantageous positions thanks to nothing other than sheer stupidity.
First, in FA Cup action, Premier League side West Ham was already trailing League One leaders Wigan 1-0 at DW Stadium when Arthur Masuaku lost his head. Nick Powell and Masuaku come together, but there was hardly anything in it until the 24-year-old left-back decided to spit on the Wigan midfielder.
It was a completely mindless act, and one well spotted by the officials, who immediately produced a red card, sending Masuaku off and leaving the Premier League side with an even bigger mountain to climb in order to avoid the upset.
Wigan would eventually go 2-0 up on a penalty given for a handball on Reece Burke, a poor call but also deserved by Wigan who bossed the match after going a man up.
Elsewhere, in Championship play, promotion hopefuls Fulham were down 1-0 on the road at struggling Barnsley after an incredibly poor first half. Just before the break, Barnsley right-back Dimitri Cavare was fouled by Stefan Johansen. The referee tried to play advantage, but with Cavare’s eventual pass dragging wayward, he blew his whistle and pulled back the foul. Johansen got up and had some words with another Barnsley player, and Cavare came up from behind him and shoved Johansen hard in the back, straight into the other player, and more importantly, directly in front of the referee.
Fulham had been awful the entire first half, and after going a man up, they came out of the intermission energized and grabbed the equalizer just four minutes after the break through young Ryan Sessegnon.
What’s gotten into these players? Nothing makes a manager seethe more than a player doing something needless to put the team at a serious disadvantage the rest of the match. Which act was dumber?
First and foremost, there’s Wayne Rooney. The question: where does Mourinho play the 12-year servant and captain of Manchester United? The question to ask regarding Rooney isn’t “what’s his best position,” but instead “at what position is he actually Man United’s best player?” It’s not striker, where Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the man; it’s not in the hole just behind Zlatan, because Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a pure no. 10; it’s not wide left, because Rooney has never thrived in a wide role, and Anthony Martial is a burgeoning superstar on the left. It might just be in Mourinho’s best interest to drop Rooney to the bench. Mourinho has never been afraid to make the riskiest political move.
Secondly, can Mourinho, long hailed a tactical genius for the way he organizes defenses, find the right formula among a central-defending quartet of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly? Too many times last season, Louis Van Gaal was forced to play with two dedicated defensive midfielders in order to protect the mistake-prone carousel of characters, which only left the attacking stars disconnected and stranded without service. Outside of Bailly, a $40-million signing from Villarreal, Mourinho and Co. have done little to address the unit transfer-wise.
United can improve four places from last season, and win the league, because… There’s practically nothing to separate the top five or six sides heading into the season. If one or two results go their way early on, they’ll be great front-runners under Mourinho.
Actually, United could miss out on Champions league qualification altogether, because… There’s practically nothing to separate the top five or six sides heading into the season. If one or two results go against them early on, they’ll be terrible chasers under Mourinho.
Best Possible XI
—– De Gea —–
— Darmian — Smalling — Jones — Shaw —
—– Schneiderlin — Herrera ——
— Mata — Mkhitaryan — Martial —
—– Ibrahimovic —–
Transfers in: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (free, Paris Saint-Germain), Henrikh Mkhitaryan ($34 million, Borussia Dortmund), Eric Bailly ($40 million, Villarreal)
Transfers out: Victor Valdes (released, Middlesbrough), Guillermo Varela (loan, Eintracht Frankfurt), Nick Powell (released, Wigan Athletic)
Last season: Van Gaal’s final season at the club saw the Red Devils finish fifth in the PL; crash out of the Champions League group stage, only to be knocked out of the Europa League by their rivals Liverpool; and cap off the roller-coaster ride by lifting the FA Cup. It was bad enough to see Van Gaal fired, paving the way for the inevitable: Mourinho at Old Trafford.
Star player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic — Finally the big Swede has made his way to the Premier League. Now comes what should be the easy part (for him, at least): delivering on the massive expectations he’ll face at Old Trafford. With any level of competent service, Zlatan will score anywhere between 14-18 goals this season, with a haul of 20 not out of reach if he remains healthy throughout and starts 35 league games. He turns 35 in October, which means his body could break down at any moment, but he showed few signs of slowing down last season, when he made 51 appearances for PSG, scoring 50 goals in the process.
Coach’s corner: Mourinho is the story of United’s season, which is the only way he’d have it. If United are successful, it will all be down to Mourinho’s genius. If they falter and miss out on Champions League qualification again, it’ll be because Mourinho ostracized the wrong players and lost the dressing room, as he infamously did at Real Madrid and Chelsea.
PST predicts: There’s enough attacking talent in this squad for the Red Devils to lead the league in goals scored, but it might all go to waste with Mourinho as manager. Where they’re (still) lacking, though, is in capable central defenders. In theory, Mourinho should aim at a thrilling attacking side that regularly outscores opponents 3-2; it’s what his team is best constructed to do. In practice, he’ll play for 1-0 victories, handicapping their ability to chase the game once they’ve conceded a silly goal, and end up finishing fifth for the second straight season.