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Deulofeu sends Watford into FA Cup final with pulsating win over Wolves

Watford will face Manchester City in next month’s FA Cup final following Sunday’s electrifying 3-2 success against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Wolves appeared to be cruising into their first final in the competition in 59 years after goals from Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez, but were forced into extra time by Hornets tallies in the 79th and 94th minutes.

Gerard Deulofeu, who was only called off the bench in the 66th minute, scored either side of Troy Deeney’s dramatic penalty deep in injury time, and his 104th-minute winner didn’t suit the occasion. Amid the nervous din in Wembley, the Spaniard drifted by Conor Coady before pushing an unfussy side-footed finish past John Ruddy.

John Patrick Fletcher / Action Plus / Getty

The comeback vaulted Watford into just their second FA Cup final, having sufffered a 2-0 loss to Everton under the old Wembley’s Twin Towers in 1984. Javi Gracia and City boss Pep Guardiola will determine who will be the third Spaniard to win the historic competition, following Rafa Benitez with Liverpool and Roberto Martinez with Wigan Athletic.

Matt Doherty headed in from close range and then teed up Raul Jimenez for a textbook chest and volley to put Wolves in charge. When Deulofeu pocketed his first effort – a deft flick of his right trotter that curled the ball into the top corner – Nuno Espirito Santo soon tried to preserve Wolves’ one-goal advantage by substituting influential pair Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota.

They were unable to turn the tide back in their favor after Deeney’s last-gasp spot kick. The penalty was awarded when Leander Dendoncker mistimed a challenge on the bulky skipper.

Deulofeu’s composed winner came just before the interval of extra-time.

BEN STANSALL / AFP / Getty

“We had it, and we let it get away from us,” Nuno told BBC Sport after the match.

It’s not all doom and gloom for Wolves. Two years prior to Sunday’s semifinal, they were 15th in the Championship and relying on Andreas Weimann and Nouha Dicko for penetration up front. Now, they boast one of the country’s best attacking duos in Jimenez and Jota. The West Midlands side will now battle for a seventh-place finish in the Premier League.

Watford, meanwhile, will look to defy the odds to beat Manchester City and lift their first piece of silverware since winning the Championship playoff final in 2006.

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Premier League

Liverpool win League Cup on Van Dijk's dramatic ET goal

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Virgil van Dijk scored in the 118th minute against Chelsea on Sunday to win the League Cup for Liverpool and deliver the first trophy of Jurgen Klopp’s farewell season.

Van Dijk’s header settled a wildly entertaining final that somehow ended goalless after 90 minutes at Wembley Stadium.

Unlike the previous two finals between these two sides – which Liverpool won on penalties after 120 minutes of goalless football – they created enough chances to muster a clear winner. Each team had goals disallowed for offside, had hit posts, and produced goal-line clearances. Goalkeepers Djordje Petrovic and Caoimhin Kelleher combined for 19 saves – many of them spectacular.

The 1-0 win keeps the Reds in contention for a continental quadruple and denies Chelsea a first title since Todd Boehly’s consortium took over in May 2022. It also robbed Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino of a first title in England.

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It also comes as Liverpool deal with a massive injury crisis. Klopp fielded three teenagers in the final and had another two on the bench because of injuries to Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota, Darwin Nunez, Dominik Szoboszlai, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Alisson.

The last time a team had three or more teenagers on the field in a League Cup final was in 2007 when Arsenal lost to Chelsea with Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas, Denilson, and Armand Traore in the starting XI.

Chelsea have now lost six consecutive domestic finals dating back to the 2018-19 season. It’s another black mark against a club that’s spent more than £1 billion since Boehly’s group acquired it from Roman Abramovich in a £4.25-billion deal.

“In extra time, it’s been Klopp’s kids against the blue billion-pound bottle jobs,” former Manchester United defender Gary Neville said on Sky Sports, per Agence France-Presse. “Special managers do special things. He is a monster manager.”

Klopp has won eight major trophies since being appointed Liverpool manager in October 2015. And it may not end there: His team leads the Premier League table, is in the fifth round of the FA Cup, and has advanced to the round of 16 of the Europa League.

Mike Hewitt / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Liverpool are rebounding well from last season, when they finished outside of the Champions League places in fifth and failed to win a trophy.

But Sunday’s final was far from straightforward. Liverpool lost midfielder Ryan Gravenberch to injury early in the first half after Chelsea’s Moises Caicedo accidentally stepped on his ankle. Without a natural replacement, Klopp threw on right-back Joe Gomez and moved Conor Bradley, who had already been deputizing in that position, into Salah’s usual slot on the right wing.

Liverpool also survived numerous goalmouth scrambles and heaved a sigh of relief in the 32nd minute when the VAR ruled Raheem Sterling’s goal offside.

Van Dijk then thought he had put the Merseyside outfit 1-0 up after 60 minutes when he steered in a strong header from Andrew Robertson’s free-kick. But the VAR caught Wataru Endo standing in an offside position before freeing Van Dijk with a pick on Chelsea defender Levi Colwill.

Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo and Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher each hit the post as both teams vied for an elusive goal. It would stay 0-0 until Van Dijk made good with the game’s 42nd attempt on goal.

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Premier League

Key thoughts and analysis from Saturday's Premier League action

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theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday’s slate of action in England’s top flight.

New era, same old Man United

Jim Ratcliffe is now a co-owner of Manchester United, and if he didn’t understand the size of the rebuilding project in front of him, Saturday’s crushing 2-1 loss to Fulham surely hammered it home.

The good vibes that Ratcliffe’s arrival had inspired earlier this week hardly lasted. United didn’t just lose at home to an opponent that hadn’t beaten them at Old Trafford in 21 years, they collapsed entirely, allowing Fulham full control of the game, only responding for brief moments at a time. The form that helped United win their last five matches was nowhere to be seen. If anything, they played as badly as they have at any point in Erik ten Hag’s tenure. For the 14th time this season, United conceded at least 17 shots, exposing themselves to myriad counterattacks as they foolishly threw caution to the wind.

Michael Regan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

United’s problems have less to do with individuals and more to do with the system Ten Hag so desperately wants them to play. Pressing is clearly not in the DNA of many of his players, and yet he insists they do it, even at the expense of their goals-against record and the acres of space left behind. United can’t mark man-to-man, either, and often get outmuscled by bigger opponents on corner-kick routines, as they did when Calvin Bassey scored the opener in the 65th minute. Fulham’s Tosin Adarabioyo blocked Christian Eriksen from tracking Bassey’s run, and the United midfielder bailed entirely. No one helped or noticed.

Losing both Luke Shaw and Lisandro Martinez has obviously harmed their bottom line, but if United can’t function without these two players, then they have to play differently without them. They can’t afford to play such a high line or leave as much space behind them as Harry Maguire did when he tried to dispossess Adama Traore in the closing seconds. The consequence of his and United’s foolhardy approach was a 97th-minute gut punch that further derailed their hopes of a top-four finish.

Ratcliffe likely sees the chemical imbalance in the squad. Ten Hag wants to play a certain way but can’t sustain anything with the players at his disposal. That could mean a change of manager or more intentional signings. Because right now, nothing fits, and when United happen to capture lightning in a bottle, as they did in previous wins over West Ham United, Aston Villa, and Luton Town, it just doesn’t last. They’ll just continue to swing between good form and bad form until the end of the season, and that won’t get them Champions League football.

Newcastle’s season unraveling

At what point does Eddie Howe’s position come under serious threat?

Getting whooped by Arsenal is far from inexcusable, especially considering the roll that the title contenders are on at the moment; including Saturday’s dominant 4-1 victory at the Emirates, the Gunners have scored 18 goals in four Premier League matches – all wins – in February. What is inexcusable, though, is being wholly unprepared and overwhelmed right from the opening whistle. Newcastle looked lost in north London. Even the very best teams have bad days when things don’t click on the pitch, touches are a little off, and passes are wayward. But Newcastle struggled to even accomplish the most basic tasks. They didn’t look ready to deal with an Arsenal side that was always going to come flying out of the gate in response to its own meek midweek Champions League defeat in Portugal. That’s on Howe.

His players share the blame, of course.

A comedic sequence inside the penalty area led to Sven Botman’s own goal from a corner kick for Arsenal’s opener. They failed to track a simple run inside the penalty area on Kai Havertz’s tally. A sloppy turnover, of which there were many, led to Arsenal’s third marker. An inability to properly defend a corner kick (again) allowed the home side to grab a fourth.

Sure, the second half was better for Howe’s team, but only because it couldn’t possibly have been any worse than the opening 45 minutes. Arsenal had 34 touches inside the penalty area compared to Newcastle’s one in the first half, while the Magpies, flustered and incapable of handling Arsenal’s high press, lost possession 11 times in their own third of the field.

There have been some mitigating factors – Newcastle’s unfortunate injury issues have been discussed ad nauseam this season – but Saturday’s match showed two clubs going in totally different directions. Arsenal, after narrowly missing out on the title last season, have improved significantly once again and are pushing for top spot with renewed vigor. Newcastle, meanwhile, haven’t built on their brilliant 2022-23 campaign and are now almost the same distance away from fourth place (15 points) as they are from the relegation zone (17 points).

They’re conceding goals at an alarming rate – 12 in their last four league outings – and unless Howe can engineer a deep FA Cup run, this will be a lost season.

Quick free-kicks

Haaland needs to shut mouths again

Michael Steele / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Pep Guardiola was protective of Erling Haaland in midweek. “Don’t criticize, he will shut your mouth,” the Manchester City manager warned reporters after the Norwegian scored the only goal in a win over Brentford. It seems unfair for a striker who’s tallied 22 goals in all competitions, but Haaland will face scrutiny again after missing more inviting chances in City’s unimpressive 1-0 victory at Bournemouth. Many elements of the striker’s game are working fine – he excellently outmuscled a defender before his shot that preceded Phil Foden’s goal and has dominated other physical battles in recent weeks – but doubt has crept into Haaland’s finishing. One breakaway left him with only Neto to beat; the chance was on his weaker right foot, but that doesn’t excuse the timidness of the shot that floated well wide of the post. Haaland was substituted in the 75th minute. Manchester City haven’t been convincing for weeks and they, along with Haaland, must find some rhythm immediately with a run of Premier League matches against Manchester United, Liverpool, Brighton & Hove Albion, Arsenal, and Aston Villa on the horizon.

No overnight revolution at Palace

Don’t let the 3-0 scoreline fool you: Crystal Palace didn’t immediately embrace the principles of new boss Oliver Glasner and run riot. It was a routine victory over Vincent Kompany’s haphazard Burnley, who played with 10 men from the 35th minute. And although the new era at Palace started with a bang, Glasner’s work with previous clubs suggests his team is a long way from how he wants it to look. Filip Kostic averaged 12.5 crosses per game under Glasner at Eintracht Frankfurt, and it seemed Jordan Ayew, whose rush of 14 crosses included an assist for Chris Richards, was fulfilling a similar role. But don’t expect it to last. While Glasner changes his formation – he predominantly used a back-four at Wolfsburg but opted for a defensive trio at Frankfurt – he rarely deviates from his preferred approach of determined pressing and hard running. Ayew, 32, is among a considerable contingent of players at Selhurst Park whose pace doesn’t match the level Glasner demands. Plenty of changes should be expected in the summer as the Austrian forms a team to suit his philosophy.

The Bailey boom

Leon Bailey might represent the biggest individual transformation during Aston Villa’s Unai Emery era. Bailey didn’t start more than two Premier League matches in a row for Aston Villa before Emery’s predecessor, Steven Gerrard, was sacked in October 2022, but his importance in the Spaniard’s setup is growing by the week. Bailey tormented makeshift right-back Moussa Niakhate during the first half of Saturday’s 4-2 triumph over Nottingham Forest, repeatedly exposing Niakhate’s poor positioning while duping him and his teammates with trickery and pace. Bailey rolled the ball between the legs of Murillo and Felipe to assist Ollie Watkins’ opener and eased nerves when he tapped in Villa’s fourth goal. Despite starting just 13 league matches this season, Bailey has crammed in eight goals and seven assists, putting him second only to Watkins in goal contributions for his team. Bailey can become one of the key figures in Villa’s resurgence if he maintains his fitness.

Stat of the day

Are Manchester United lucky to be sixth in the table?

Tweet of the day

We should have seen that Newcastle performance coming.

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Premier League

Key thoughts and analysis from Saturday's Premier League action

Find the biggest stories from across the soccer world by visiting our Top Soccer News section and subscribing to push notifications.

theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday’s slate of action in England’s top flight.

Chelsea look like a team again

Have Chelsea finally turned a corner? There have been plenty of false dawns before, but their performance against Manchester City on Saturday was too disciplined to ignore. Mauricio Pochettino asked his players to “be brave” before the match, and they were. They chased City all over the park, forcing turnovers in crucial areas while marking the likes of Kevin De Bruyne out of the game. Chelsea defended and attacked as a unit, which they’ve rarely done in the year-and-a-half since co-owner Todd Boehly began playing musical chairs with the furniture at Stamford Bridge.

What was most impressive was the way they stuck with City even as they passed the ball around the park, probing for an opening. Chelsea didn’t give the hosts a free inch. They pressed with the kind of precision that was hopelessly absent from some of their slapstick performances that plagued the early months of Pochettino’s reign. If anything, it was City giving away free yards, especially on the counterattack.

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty

Naturally, Chelsea conceded ground over the life of the match, and eventually, the equalizer came off an unlucky deflection. They could only hold on for so long. But that’s because they gave so much in all areas of the field. They didn’t just park the bus and hope for a result from the beginning. They battled, expended energy, and put themselves in a position to take home a positive result. That’s why Pochettino decided to swap leading scorer Cole Palmer for Trevoh Chalobah in the 71st minute: The 1-0 lead was too precious to give up. Chelsea, after all, entered the match in 10th place. It would’ve been foolish to risk throwing it away when the tide was so clearly turning in City’s favor.

“It’s important that the players realize that football is really competitive and to reach the level we want, we need to suffer,” Pochettino told the BBC.

In truth, Chelsea have shown incredible team spirit since losing 4-2 at home to Wolverhampton on Feb. 4. Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo have added bite to Chelsea’s midfield, and the misfiring Nicolas Jackson is evolving into a reliable provider, if not a finisher. The Blues overwhelmed Aston Villa to advance in the FA Cup, outfoxed Crystal Palace’s low block in an impressive 3-1 win, and went toe-to-toe during a battling draw with City.

Maybe there’s a reward for patience.

Liverpool’s test of resources, resilience

In an ideal world, Jurgen Klopp would’ve preferred the fourth official to display the No. 11 on his board with a small portion of the match left and Liverpool cruising to victory. Instead, Mohamed Salah was hurried onto the pitch in the 44th minute after Diogo Jota became the second of three players to suffer an injury in the 4-1 win at Brentford.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson, Dominik Szoboszlai, the luckless Thiago Alcantara, and long-term concern Joel Matip were already ruled out of the trip to west London. Jota, Curtis Jones, and Darwin Nunez were added to that list on Saturday.

Salah’s return to contention and instant contributions to his team’s attacking cause couldn’t have been more timely. For his assist, he collected the ball between the lines and quickly sprung a side-footed pass to Alexis Mac Allister’s feet. For his goal, he preyed on a defensive mix-up and showcased his surprising level of strength to easily resist Nathan Collins’ challenge before slotting into the far corner.

One theme of this season has been how teams have dealt with absences. Eddie Howe failed to create a siege mentality or, with the exception of Lewis Miley, successfully lean on academy graduates during Newcastle United’s spate of injuries and suspensions, so his side gloomily trudged away from the European places. Others fared much better with setbacks, like Tottenham Hotspur soldiering through periods without James Maddison, Micky van de Ven, and Cristian Romero, Manchester City navigating long stretches without De Bruyne and Erling Haaland, and Fulham dealing with regular disruptions to their center-back contingent.

Now, it seems like it’s Liverpool’s turn to cope with a busy treatment room. Salah’s comeback has already lifted Klopp’s side, but potentially losing both Jota and Nunez means there could be a thorough examination of the Salah, Cody Gakpo, and Luis Diaz trio during a one-and-a-half week spell that features four matches.

Upcoming matches for Liverpool

Date Competition Match
Feb. 21 Premier League Luton Town (h)
Feb. 25 League Cup final Chelsea (Wembley)
Feb. 28 FA Cup Southampton (h)
March 2 Premier League Nottingham Forest (a)

And the game after that burst of matches? A visit from Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on March 10.

Quick free-kicks

Arsenal’s confidence soaring

Make that 21 goals in five Premier League matches for Arsenal. What a turnaround for a club whose title prospects had seemingly come and gone. The Gunners went the preceding six games with just five goals scored, leading many to question their recruitment up front. That conversation ended quickly. Even Kai Havertz, an often confusing figure in the attacking third, has joined in on the fun. With leading striker Gabriel Jesus in and out of the lineup, secondary scoring has never been more important, and nine different players have picked up the slack in recent games. That’s a byproduct of Mikel Arteta’s style of play, which closely resembles Guardiola’s criss-crossing passing football at Manchester City, allowing everyone to participate in the buildup. And with three of their next four Premier League matches against defensively porous sides, Arsenal’s goal rush should continue.

Newcastle invite trouble

Marc Atkins / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Martin Dubravka’s slip in the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth was more than a goalkeeping gaffe. It was a peculiar passage of play by Newcastle. The Magpies aren’t known for playing it out of the back: Fabian Schar is their only defender who’s fully comfortable with the ball in his own third, and their goalkeepers, Nick Pope and Dubravka, are shot-stoppers rather than modern ball-playing ‘keepers. So, attempting to evade Bournemouth’s press was a bad idea. The Cherries, among the league’s top tacklers in the final third, cut off passing lanes and picked their moments to swarm. Sven Botman, Dan Burn, Anthony Gordon, Sean Longstaff, and Botman again were under pressure before Dubravka’s panic set in. He touched the ball with his right, and then, in his haste to get the ball to Schar while Dominic Solanke closed him down, the same foot slipped beneath him. Solanke’s easy tap-in was simply an example of Newcastle succumbing to one of their weaknesses and Bournemouth playing to their strengths.

Discount City at your peril

Manchester City are inevitable. Even on their worst days, they can get by. No one on City’s roster is happy about the 1-1 draw with Chelsea, and yet it’s a draw that keeps them within touching distance of first place. They remain four points off Liverpool with a game in hand because of Rodri’s 81st-minute deflected equalizer at the Etihad. It’s a goal that keeps the nerves off edge. Instead of dwelling on their first home loss in 34 matches – a run dating back to November 2022 – City can continue to look forward. The draw buys them time. That’s why City are impossible to count out. When they’re playing as badly as they did on Saturday – leaving yards of space behind them, practically inviting Chelsea to score on them – they get a kick save from Ederson that keeps the score in check. Even when they’re struggling to create solid chances, they retain enough of the ball to force their way through. They’ve conceded first in five of their last 11 league matches, and what difference has it really made?

Stat of the day

Haaland is allowed to have bad days.

Tweet of the day

They say title races come down to the smallest details.

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