1. Kante’s energy and quality harms his old friends at Leicester.
In one sense, Chelsea owed their place in the FA Cup semi-finals to a pair of out-of-sorts Spaniards who had paid for the slumps in form by losing their place in the national squad. Alvaro Morata scored a belated first goal of 2018 and Pedro only his second of the calendar year as they eventually overcame Leicester after extra time.
In another respect, however, it was a victory fashioned by a rather more consistent performer. Leicester needed no reminders of N’Golo Kante’s excellence. It was a feature of their title-winning campaign in 2015-16, just as it was when Chelsea became champions last year.
AS IT HAPPENED: Leicester v Chelsea
READ MORE: Pedro and Morata send Conte’s men through
Yet if both clubs can testify that the Frenchman is indefatigable and have ample evidence of his ball-winning abilities, Chelsea’s winner revealed more than that. Naturally, it said something about Kante’s energy that he was still powering into the final third after 105 minutes. But a workhorse also provided a quality cross and while Kasper Schmeichel erred in coming so far off his line, that allowed Pedro to head Chelsea into a Wembley showdown with Southampton.
2. Striking problems in Hughes’ winning start.
An FA Cup tie against lower-league opposition had been Mark Hughes’ undoing once already this season. He lost his job as Stoke manager after an embarrassing exit to Coventry. Perhaps there was something cathartic in his return coming in a similar fixture, as he began his reign in charge of Southampton by beating Wigan 2-0, Hughes could claim some of the credit. They were much more positive after his half-time intervention and a substitute he brought on, Nathan Redmond, set up the second goal after playing a part in the winning of a penalty.
AS IT HAPPENED: Wigan v Southampton
READ MORE: Hojbjerg and Cedric give Hughes first win
READ MORE: Hughes excited by Southampton quality
Hughes had tried to be more progressive from the start, too. The dismissed Mauricio Pellegrino tended to pick a lone attacker. Hughes started with two. Yet even in victory there were reminders of why Southampton average under a goal a game in the Premier League.
The club record buy Guido Carrillo could not open his account for the club, and the £19 million man never looked likely to find the net against League One opponents. Manolo Gabbiadini, often a substitute for Pellegrino, started for Hughes and had two glorious openings, one that spot kick, but both were saved by Christian Walton. The Italian only has one goal in his last 20 games, the substitute Shane Long one in 45 for club and country. Hughes’ hopes of getting more goals from his forwards may depend on Charlie Austin’s return to fitness.
3. Four star Salah offers echoes of Messi.
Game by game, Mohamed Salah chalks up more milestones. He delivered his first Liverpool hat-trick in the 5-0 demolition of Watford, added a fourth goal and set up the other. Another four goals will make him the first Liverpool player since Ian Rush to register 40 goals in a season.
READ MORE: Klopp – Don’t compare Salah to Messi
The numbers, the hunger and the style of his strikes drew comparisons with Lionel Messi; this was a display of relentless brilliance. The first, a slaloming solo run, was his 25th strike of the Premier League season. It is a feat that only Robbie Fowler and Luis Suarez have previously managed for Liverpool; or, to put it another way, one that has eluded forwards of the calibre of Michael Owen and Fernando Torres.
He also provided the cross for Roberto Firmino to add Liverpool’s third goal with a lovely backheeled flick. It offered another measure of Salah’s influence. He has nine assists – only Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sane have more – to add to 28 goals which, with Harry Kane injured, means he is closing in on the Golden Boot. It ensures that, with seven league games to go, Salah only needs to be directly involved in one more to end the campaign as a goal-a-game man, providing Liverpool, one way or another, with at least 38 goals over 38 matches. And that is extraordinary.
4. Shaw needs to get away from Mourinho.
Some managers have a policy of never criticising their players in public. Jose Mourinho is not one of them but while he claimed he was not naming names, other than that of the exception, the lone player to please him, Nemanja Matic, in the 2-0 victory over Brighton, he nonetheless contrived to give the impression a familiar scapegoat was the man who irritated him most.
READ MORE: Lukaku and Matic book semi-final spot
READ MORE: Mourinho delivers stinging Shaw criticism
Luke Shaw was hauled off at half-time, despite playing a part in Romelu Lukaku’s opening goal. Mourinho may have tempered his comments about the Englishman by suggesting he would have taken both full-backs off but for fears he would run out of substitutes, but it was significant that Shaw was the one he removed. He trusts Ashley Young more and, after almost two years of his reign, that probably means it is too late for Shaw to win him over. A parting of ways seems in the left-back’s best interests in the summer.
5. Spurs show their strength in depth.
In one respect, Tottenham owe their place in the FA Cup semi-finals to one of their leading lights. Christian Eriksen scored twice, hit the bar, provided the pass when Heung-Min Son had a goal disallowed and won the ball for Erik Lamela’s goal in a 3-0 win over Swansea. The Dane has provided few more comprehensive performances in his fine Spurs career.
And yet Eriksen’s colleagues showed that, rather than taking an unnecessary gamble in making seven changes in his team’s last game for a fortnight, Mauricio Pochettino was justified in showing faith in some fringe players.
Erik Lamela scored the other goal, supplied Eriksen for the opener and flourished as a No. 10. Lucas Moura teed up Eriksen for his second strike and offered more encouragement on his third start for his new club. Eric Dier was another to come into the side and exert and influence while Michel Vorm, deputising for the rested Hugo Lloris, prevented his old employers from finding a route back into the game with a fine double save from Martin Olsson and Tammy Abraham. Spurs’ budget is dwarfed by those of the other top-six clubs but this was a sign that, quietly, they are building a squad of both quality and depth.