WEEKEND TAKEAWAY: High Profile Teams Dominate FA Cup

The English FA Cup got off to a flying start this past weekend. The high profile teams dishing out commanding results as they normally should, City, Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester United in particular; but the gulf in quality has never been more obvious.

Premier League sides played with so much finesse and swagger, their Championship and League One counterparts couldn’t compare.

The FA Cup is notably renowned for its unpredictability; that element of anyone can knock anyone else out.

As such, Fulham and Leicester City were both handed third-round knockouts by Oldham Athletic and Newport County respectively.

While Leicester never had the drive all day long, Fulham fell to a final 15 minutes onslaught, compounding the mammoth expectation of Premier League survival.

Perhaps, this knockout is a blessing in disguise for Fulham and Claudio Ranieri who can now put their ultimate focus on league survival.

But with the quality of underperforming players at Fulham, a shot at the cup should have been an early season target.

Alvaro Morata down on confidence

Alvaro Morata is not a happy man. It is only 18 months ago when he took the English football by storm, like a man who was born for the occassion.

Now, he cuts the figure of a man who has lost every ounce of confidence in him and is barely kicking the ball around, unperturbed, disinterested and unmindful.

Morata missed another seater, although he made up for it almost immediately, his body language gave him up for scrutiny.

It’s almost like Chelsea’s then record signing would rather be wearing another Jersey, in another country, preferably Spain or Italy but certainly not England.

As the missed chances pile up, so does his confidence drain. And the equally poor state of Olivier Giroud means Morata will keep getting game time.

There are rumours the Spaniard is considering a move to Sevilla. Perhaps a change in environment would do him good; if that doesn’t materialise, he needs to build on the pair of goals he grabbed over the weekend to restore his confidence.

Barça take control of La Liga.

Having seen closest rivals Sevilla and Atlético Madrid play out a 1-1 draw, and Real Madrid falling to a 0-2 defeat to Real Sociedad, their first home defeat to the Basque side in 15 years, Barça gratefully took a 2-1 win in Madrid, at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez.

Barça have a history of grinding out results at Getafe, and Sunday night was another opportunity to extend their lead on at the top of the table; five points off Atlético, seven off Sevilla in third and a whopping ten off Real Madrid; the seventh time Los Blancos have been outside the top four this season.

Lakers’ trouble worsened

Since the infamous Christmas day hammering of Golden State Warriors at the Oak arena, pulled off with LeBron James spending only 21 minutes on court, LA Lakers have endured a horrendous run without James.

Six games after handling the champions and their supporters the worst Christmas present imaginable, the Lakers have only won a game, losing the last four and looking like a shadow of the team we saw a fortnight ago.

Lakers, who announced on Friday that LeBron will be rested for another week before reevaluation, need to grow beyond depending solely on LeBron James.

A season out of the playoffs is a real possibility now. The current 1-5 stretch has dropped the Lakers to 21-19 overall and eighth place in the highly competitive Western Conference playoff race.

Lakers only a game ahead of the ninth-place Utah Jazz and just three ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans in 14th.

Tennis special

The first Grand Slam of the Tennis season will commence by the weekend, however, the Hopman Cup and the Brisbane International were two events that made the past weekend.

Having won his first Hopman Cup in 2001, Roger Federer has now won consecutive titles to take his decorated career a notch defeating the same opponents as last year, German pair of Alexandre Zverev and Angelique Kerber in the final.

Former world No 1 Karolina Pliskova beat Lesia Tsurenko to win the women’s Brisbane International for the second time in her career.

Tsurenko had defeated Naomi Osaka in the semis, and it left tongues wagging for another potential upset. Victory means Pliskova joins an exclusive list though: Victoria Azarenka (2009, 2016) and Serena Williams (2013-14) as the third woman to win the Premier event twice.

And watching Kei Nishikori claiming a first win since 2016 in the men’s category is a real delight.

Nishikori has battled injuries lately, to see him return to top-level tennis and winning a tournament just before the Australian Open commences whets the appetite.

NNL Super-eight gets Nigeria football back on track.

Finally, the second division playoffs is underway in Aba. For six weeks, the start of a new NPFL season had been delayed because the NNL chose to strongarm the NPFL into making an absolutely ridiculous decision for an even more laughable reason.

Hence, the commencement of the Super-eight over the weekend ends a week where series of unfounded allegations were written about the federation leadership, causing the NFF president to issue a disclaimer and also threatening to take legal actions.

Now that this is over, and with a jam-packed schedule in African football this year, hopefully, there will be no more disruptive acts and sanity can be restored.