*SobeginsthelatestRiyadMahrezfarewelltour。

Theonlydifferencethistimeisthattherewillbenoencore;thesearesurelythefinalmonthsofthewinger’sfruitfulstayinLeicester。

Ifthatisthecase,itisarelieftoseethattheAlgerianhasrecoveredfromhisbriefblipandhasreturnedtohisoldself:aplayerdeterminedtoleavehisclubonthebesttermspossible。

HewasexcellentinthevictoryoverSheffieldUnited,layingonthewinninggoalforJamieVardyandacceptingawarmwelcomefromtheforgivinghomefans。

Mahrezwillrealisethathe,theclubandthesupporterscanallbenefitiftheyworktowardsthesamegoal。

Evenjustoneofthosepartiespullingrankmakesthisdelicatethree-wayrelationshipgosour。

*TheacceptedwisdomisthatMahrezwillbetheonlykeyfirst-teamplayerLeicesteragreetosellthissummer,providinganypotentialsuitormeetstheiraskingprice。

TherealityisthatWilfredNdidi’scontinuedupwardtrajectorywillhavealreadycaughttheeyeofmanyaclublongbeforethetransferwindowreopens。

Themidfielder’sobviousskillistackling,buthehasslowlyrefinedanotheraspectofhisgameoverthecourseofthisseason。

Hispassinghasbecomemorecrisp,moreaccomplishedandmoreaccurate。

Herecordedapass-completionrateofunder70%insixofhisfirst12appearancesthisseason,andjustonceinhissubsequent19games。

Itisbutanotherstringtoanever-expandingbow。

*SheffieldUnitedfought,butLeicesterwerealtogethertoostrongeventually。

TheFoxesdeservegreatcreditforfieldingafull-strengthteam(particularlywhentheywereroundlycriticisedforrotatinginthepreviousround),justastheBladeswarrantpraiseformatchingthemforlargeswathesofthegame。

Theonemainpositivetoyieldfromthe1-0defeatwasthereturnofDavidBrooksfromglandularfever。

The20-year-oldhadnotfeaturedsinceDecember,andlookedbrightuponhisintroductionathalf-time。

“Davidmakesusanevenstrongerteam,”managerChrisWildersaidafterthegame。

“HemakeswhatIthinkisanalreadydangerousteamevenmoredangerous。

”TheBladeshavelosttheirfootinginthebattleforaplay-offspot,butBrooks’returncouldswaythingsbackintheirfavour。

*WhileEthanAmpadu’sstarshonebrightest,hewasnotaloneinflyingtheyouthflagforChelsea。

ThePremierLeaguechampionssweptHullasideinemphaticfashion,withKyleScott(20)andCallumHudson-Odoi(17)alsogivenopportunitiestoimpressfromthebench。

Chelseahavehandedexactly500minutestoteenagersinallcompetitionsthisseason。

Bycomparison,Liverpool(1,630),Arsenal(1,213)andManchesterUnited(988)havegiventheirsmoregametime,whileManchesterCity(421)andTottenham(362)arelaggingbehind。

ConsideringAntonioContehasbeenaccusedofthesamelackoffaithinyoungplayersashispredecessors,thatisnotabadrecord。

*Ontheonehand,Willianhasscoredorassistedacombined20goalsinallcompetitionsforChelseathisseason–morethanallbutEdenHazard(24)。

Ontheother,15ofthose20cameagainstQarabag,Huddersfield,Stoke,BrightonandnowHull。

Therearebetter–andfarlessinfuriating–playersinthissquad,butfewmoreadeptasaflat-trackbully。

Andthatisacompliment,notaninsult。

*“Wecamewithagameplanandwithinacoupleofminutesit’soutofthewindow,”saidNigelAdkinsafterthe4-0defeat。

TheHullmanagerstoppedshortofnaminganynames,butKevinStewartwouldhaveneededlittlehelpindecipheringthemessage。

HegiftedChelseapossessionfortheirearlyopener,beforebeingbrushedofftheballbyOlivierGiroudinthebuild-uptotheirthird。

Stewarthasplayed317ofapossible990minutesintheChampionshipsinceAdkinswasappointedmanagerinDecember,andFridayeveningshowedwhy。

Hewasslowtoreactandunabletokeepupwiththetempointhefirsthalf,exposedbyaChelseasidehungrytoimpress。

Itwasnowaytowinoveranewboss。

LiverpoolsoldStewarttoHullfor£8millionthissummer,andsignedAndrewRobertsonforthesameinitialprice。

Theremightneverhavebeenamoreefficient–orinefficient,intheTigers’case–recentuseofthetransfermarket。

*WithSheffieldWednesdayandSwanseabothfightingtostayintheirrespectivedivisions,neitherparticularlywelcomedtheprospectofaddinganFACupreplaytoanalreadybusyfixtureschedule。

BothmadesixchangesonSaturdaylunchtime,andtheinevitableresultwasaratherdrab,lifeless0-0draw。

WednesdaymanagerJosLuhukaycameinforcriticismwhenaweakenedWednesdayteamwasannounced,buttheywereamatchfortheirPremierLeaguecounterparts。

AbluntSwanseaattackwasnullifiedandcontrolledwitharesoluteperformance。

Luhukayhasdeliveredjustthreewinssincehewasappointedmanagerearlylastmonth,buttheprogressmadeisundeniable。

Hehasexponentiallyimprovedapreviouslytroubleddefence,andhaslaidthefoundationsforfurtherbuildinginthecomingmonths。

Theswitchtothreeatthebackhasbroughtsixcleansheetsinhisninegames;Wednesdaykeptsixin29underCarlosCarvalhalearlierthisseason。

*IntheHillsboroughstandswasGarethSouthgate,mostlikelytheretocastawatchfuleyeoverthedevelopmentofSwanseacentre-halfAlfieMawson。

Itmightwellhavefeltlikeawastedjourneywhenthe24-year-oldsufferedaninjuryinthewarm-upandwasremovedfromthestartingline-up。

ItdidprovidetheEnglandmanagerachancetowatchTammyAbrahamclosely,andthestrikerhardlyshoneinthespotlight。

Hedidnothaveasingleshot,andcreatedonlyonechanceagainstadefencefeaturingGeorgeBoydatleftwing-back。

Abrahamscoredfivegoalsandassistedonein14gamesinallcompetitionsbeforehisfirstEnglandcaponNovember10;hehasnowscoredtwoandassistedtwo–allagainstNottsCounty–in16gamessince。

Hefaredbetterwiththecarrotdangledinfrontofhimthanplaceddirectlyintohismouth。

AnyonestillthinkChelseamadeamistakeloaninghimout?

Thisguydid。

Laughathim。

*Forthesecondtimethisseason,andonlythethirdtimesinceFebruary,Brightonareunbeateninfivegamesinallcompetitions。

AroutinevictoryoverCoventryhandsthemanFACupquarter-finalberthforthefirsttimesince1986。

ChrisHughtonwilltakepleasureinarunofformthathasincludedfivePremierLeaguepoints,butthemostencouragingaspectisthatBrightonarefindingthenetagain。

TheyscoredthreegoalsinagamejusttwicefromAugusttoJanuary;theyhavedonesoasmanytimesinthepastfortnight。

Ifclub-recordsigningJurgenLocadiaandLeonardoUlloacanmaintainsomeformofconsistency,noothersidebattlingrelegationhasamorepotentstrikeforce。

*ItwasavalianteffortfromCoventry,andalthoughdefeatrepresentstheendoftheirFACupjourney,theirseasonisnotover。

ManagerMarkRobinsspokeof“tryingtofinishtheseasononapositive”afterseeinghissideenjoythebetterofthesecondhalfagainstBrighton,andtheSkyBlueswillhopetocarrythatlevelofperformanceintotheirleagueform。

WhenCoventrybeatMKDonsintheFACupfourthround,threepointsseparatedthemfromthefinalautomaticpromotionspotinLeagueTwo。

Sincereachingthefifthround,theyhavelostthreeoffourgames,andarenow12pointsoffthepace。

AstrongshowingagainstPremierLeagueoppositionprovidesavaluableopportunitytorefocus。

*FromparkingbuseswithTonyPulistostealingtaxisunderAlanPardew。

AhorribleweekforWestBromendswiththeironeglimmeroflightbeingbanishedinfrontofanunderstandablyunhappyHawthorns。

JonnyEvansandGarethBarrybothstartedagainstSouthampton,despitetheirescapadesjustdaysearlierhavingcastacloudovertheclub。

Theformerwasstrippedofhiscaptaincy,whichPardewexplainedwas“alittlebitofastatement”。

“ObviouslyIwasfuriouswithwhathappenedbutatthesametime,I’vegottostayfaithfultotheplayersandgivethemachancetoremedythesituation,”Pardewcontinued,butthatisnonsense。

Themanagerowesnosuch“faith”toplayerswhoshownorespecttohimortheclub。

Whereisthe“faith”owedtoSamField,whowouldhaveofferedinfinitelymoreinmidfieldthanthestaticBarryonSaturday?

HadthefourindividualsarrestedinSpainbeeninthereservesoryouthteam,theywouldnothaveretainedtheirplacesthefollowinggame。

Theywouldhavebeenadequatelypunished,madeanexampleoutof。

EvansandBarryshouldbenodifferentjustbecauseoftheirexperience。

*MauricioPellegrinoisverymuchon-brand。

“Likeeverysingleweekendwehavetoimproveanddrawsomeconclusionsaboutthepositiveandnegativethings,”saidtheArgentineanafterSouthamptonfoundawaypastWestBromtoreachthelasteight。

Anddrawsomeconclusionsweshall。

ThiswasthefirstoffivegamesthatPellegrinodescribedas“fundamental”earlierthisweek,andalsotheirthirdwininfive。

ThedownsideisthattwoofthosehavecomeagainstWestBrom,andthiswasachievedinspiteofhavingfiveshotstothehosts’23。

Pellegrino’sin-gamemanagementcontinuestocomeunderscrutiny,andGuidoCarrilloisstillwithoutafirstgoal。

TherearenonegativestoreachingtheFACupquarter-final,butthepositivesaremuted。

Thiswasmoretentativetiptoethanforwardstep。

*WhenaskedaboutVARonTuesday,JoseMourinhoofferedthefollowingthoughts。

“Frommyprofessionalperspective,Ilikethefeelingofarightdecisioniscoming,”hesaid。

“It’sapenaltyornotapenalty,it’shandballornothandball,it’saredcardornotaredcard。

IthinkafairdecisionisafeelingthatIlike。



BySaturdayevening,hewasansweringthesamequestions。

VARwasused–andusedabsolutelylaughably–toruleoutafirsthalfJuanMatagoal。

Leaveasidethequestionableimplementationofthetechnologyforonesecond,andjustponderwhytheuseofVARwaschampionedinthefirstplace。

RefereechiefMikeRileystressedlastmonththatVARshouldonlyeverbeusedintheeventofa“clearandobvious”error,butthiswasnosuchthing。

Thiswasthemostmarginalofoffsidecalls,notaglaringmistake。

OneofthebenefitsofVARwasthatitwouldreducethenumberofpost-matchdebates。

Thusfar,ithasonlyincreasedthem,andforentirelythewrongreasons。

*UponhearingthatMauricioPochettinohadmade11changesforTottenham’striptoRochdale,youwouldbeforgivenforonceagainquestioningtheSpursboss’sattitudetowardstheFACup。

PochettinohasneverhiddenthefactthatthecompetitionremainswaybelowthePremierLeagueandtheChampionsLeague,butthiswasateamselectionthatcertainlydidnotsuggestthatthemanagerregardsthecupwithcontempt。

ItwasateamcrammedwithseniorinternationalsandexperiencedPremierLeaguecampaigners,asidethatsatisfiedPochettino’sdesiretorotatebutalsoonethatshouldhavehadenoughtomakerelativelylightworkofLeagueOne’sbottomside。

TheXIalsofeaturedmanynameswithapointtoprove,butthefirsthouronlyservedtohighlightwhysomeofthemweretrottingoutatSpotlandtoday,ratherthanTurinlastTuesday。

HarryWinksandVictorWanyamawereplayedattheirowngamebyRochdale,whileFernandoLlorentestillresemblesanimposterintheSpursranks。

EveninthewakeoftakingalateleadafterHarryKanehadtobedispatchedfromthebench,Spursstillfailedtoseeitthrough。

JustafewmomentsafterkissingthecamerainthewakeofKane’spenalty,DannyRosewasoneofatleastthreedefendersculpablefornotgettingcloseenoughtotheRochdaleplayersdescendinguponthebox,withKieranTrippierallowingtheballtobecrossedandTobyAlderweireldservingonlytoflicktheballintoSteveDavies’path。

“TheFACupismagic,”saidPochettinoafterwards,hidinghisdisdainforthecompetitionratherbetterthanpreviously,evenifmanywouldforgivehisfrustrationattheeffectitisnowhavingonhisside’sschedule。

ButyoucanbetthattheTottenhambosswillhavebeenmoreforthcomingwithhisplayerswhoareentirelyatfaultfortheextraunwanteddistractions。

*TheTottenhamstartertomostenhancehisprospectswasthemanmakinghisfirstappearanceinPochettino’sXI。

LucasMourahasbeenamanlivingonreputationaloneforthelastcoupleofyears,butSpursfans’firstglimpseofthenewboysuggestsDanielLevy’spuntinthefinaldaysofthetransferwindowmaypayoff。

TheBrazilianseizedwhathadbecometofeellikearareopportunitywithadisplayofdriveandpenetration,displayingnoneoftherustinessyoumightexpectfromaplayerusedsofleetinglyinrecentmonths。

Playingofftherightinthefirsthalf,hewascomfortablegoingeitherwayaroundRochdale’sdefence,beforethesecondperiodshowcasedwhathecandofromtheoppositeflank,dartinginbetweendefenders,withorwithouttheball。

MourastartedandfinishedthemovethatgaveSpurstheirequaliserandhimselfafirstgoalinEnglishfootball。

Hissubstitutionwith20minutestodayappearedpre-plannedratherthanasaconsequenceoftiringlegsandhisperformancegavethemanwhoreplacedhim,DeleAlli,anotherreminderthathisplaceinPochettino’ssideisbynomeansassuredunlesshecanconjureupsomeconsistentform。

*ForthoseofusgettingourfirstproperlookatRochdale,theobviousquestionis:whythehellaretheybottomofLeagueOne?

ThefirsthalfalsodisprovedthetheorythatDale’sbestchancewentwiththeturfthatwasdugupandreplacedoverthelastweek。

Pochettinowasgushinginhispraiseofthehostsfortheirachievementsinlayinganewsurfaceoverthelastweek,perhapsoveremphasisingthepointafterapologisingforhispreviouscriticismpriortothedecisiontorolloutanewpitchforthePremierLeagueteam。

ButDale’sperformanceintheopeninghour–particularlythefirsthalf–suggestedthatacowfieldwouldhamperDale’sgameplanjustasmuchasTottenham’s。

KeithHill’ssidepressedSpurs,especiallyWinksandWanyama,beforemovingtheballaroundwithconfidencewhenitwaswon。

Theycreatedopportunities,notbygoingRouteOneasmanymighthaveexpected,butbytakingTottenhamonattheirowngame。

Athalf-time,theydeservedtheirlead,whichfittinglycameafterwinningpossessionhighupthepitchbeforeAndyCannonweightedhispassperfectlyforIanHendersontosweephome。

Itwasgoalmanymighthaveexpectedfromthehigh-flyingvisitors,ratherthantherock-bottomhosts。

Asexpected,Rochdaletiredwhenthegamestretchedbehindthehourmark,andPochettino’stacticalswitch,likelymadeamidahalf-timerollickingforhisplayers,sawSpursfinallyassertsomedomination。

ButDale’sapproachdidnotwaiver,nordidtheirdetermination。

ItisdifficultnottosoundcondescendingwhilepraisingHill’smen,butthelast-gasplevellerandatriptoWembleywasnolessthantheydeserved。

Now,totherealissueofretainingtheirLeagueOnestatus。

Theycantakeahugeamountofconfidencefromthisperformance,thatHilladmittedwasthebestoftheirseason。

“Keydecisionsandsillymistakes,”waswhatthemanagerattributedtheirleaguepositiontobutthisdisplayinfrontofthecamerasshouldgivetheplayersthemoraletorecover,despitesitting11pointsoffsafety。

Theyhavefourgamesinhandonmostoftheirrivals,andfiveonothers,andthemomentumfromtodayhastobetakenintothe19gamestheymustcramintothenext11weeksiftheyaretopulloffwhatprevioustotodayseemedanunlikelyescape。

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