Third round shows off FA Cup’s allure

We were very fortunate this weekend to see some fantastic games in the FA Cup. All the romance, drama and  controversy that this great competition is famous for was on display and I was thrilled that an American network audience got to see it live for the first time. That West HamManchester United game was as good an advertisement for the English game and the magic of the FA Cup as any you’ll ever see, and I was very proud to be a part of that.

Bournemouth, Luton and Brighton may not be well-known on these shores, but they were the heroes of the weekend, getting big results against teams with far more money and resources. It’s always great to see the small teams shine, even if it comes at the expense of some of the bigger clubs — more on that in a moment.

But let’s start at Field Mill with Mansfield Town, who lost on Sunday to Liverpool in controversial fashion. I think Paul Cox and his team did themselves great credit both on the field and in talking to the media after the game in spite of what was a heartbreaking loss. Yes, they were under pressure for much of the first half, but they rode their luck when they could well have been 3-0 down, and came out and played very well in the second half.

It’s disappointing that once again we have to talk about Luis Suarez. He just seems to always be at the center of controversy. To be clear, the goal he scored should not have counted: it was a blatant handball. Everyone in the stadium saw it – everyone in Los Angeles saw it as well! But I don’t blame Suarez: I blame the referee and his crew. I think it was a natural reaction from Suarez, and I don’t want to say it was deliberate. But the referees should have seen it, and waved it off.

It wasn’t the first handball, either: Joe Allen handled the ball on the line and while Michael Carragher was in a difficult situation when he handled the ball in the box, I’ve seen those given as penalties. Suarez’s goal changed the game and it simply shouldn’t have been allowed to stand. It’s a hard one to swallow and it’s so unfortunate Mansfield Town had to go out because of it.

Speaking of teams going out, one was my old club, Newcastle, upset by Brighton. I have to say that the Seagulls fully deserved their win over us. This is the second time in a row they’ve knocked us out and while it was a very disappointing performance by us, I don’t want to take anything away from Gus Poyet’s men. They exposed the Newcastle defense all game long and got the win as a result.

I haven’t seen Alan Pardew concerned all season long, but he is now, and with good reason. Newcastle’s injuries, the Demba Ba situation, the absences and the lack of reinforcements mean we’re now in a relegation battle. We have to be buyers in the transfer window, the team must regroup, and the players have to get ready for a fight to stay up.

Speaking of Ba, he got off the blocks in a great way for his new club in what I thought was a clinical show by Chelsea against Southampton. It was super to see him make his debut in that fashion, because it will serve to take a lot of the pressure off him. The one thing I did not like to see in that game, however, was some of the reactions from Fernando Torres, sitting on the bench. I’m saying this from the outside looking in, but he didn’t look to be a part of the team on the day, and that doesn’t sit well. I’m not saying he has to jump up and down, but he looked very distant. Honestly, it had me wondering when it’s going to stop being about him, and start being about the team.

For sheer drama, you’d be hard pressed to exceed what we saw at Upton Park. The game our national audience got to see was super. For my money, Manchester United’s Robin van Persie has to be the buy of the season. Twenty goals already in 26 games is incredible. Where I do think United has to make some changes is on defense. Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans again showed that their lack of size hurts the team on set pieces, and United are not going to be able to succeed in the Champions League unless they address that. But what about Ryan Giggs? He’s 39 and still the class of the team.

We’ve got some great fourth round games to look ahead to now at the end of January. But before that, we have two huge games live on FOX Soccer next Sunday in the Premier League. I do hope you join us for ArsenalManchester City and Manchester United-Liverpool, two games I think could decide this season.

I also hope you keep your tweets coming to me at @warrenbarton2! We had a great chat this week on @FOXSoccer, and you can always use the hashtag #HeyWarren to ask a question. As always, thanks for reading and for watching. I’ll see you next week!