Watch - Social media turns on #Flopp and #Fraudiola as unfamiliar names make our Independent.ie team of the week
Amid a weekend that saw a sadly diminished FA Cup competition take what has become a rare share of the sporting limelight as it hosted two wonderfully entertaining semi-finals at Wembley, Liverpool may have been on the wrong end of the most significant result yet in the race to secure a top four finish in the Premier League.
Here is your Independent.ie review of a pivotal weekend in the English soccer season.
NO EXCUSES FOR KLOPP AND LIVERPOOL
With the finishing line in this unpredictable season now in sight, two celebrated leaders suddenly find themselves in the dock facing up to charges of serious sporting crimes.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola knew that their reputations were on the line and failure was not an option amid inflated expectations, but both may now be set to come up short in their respective goals.
A 2-1 home defeat against Crystal Palace on Sunday means Liverpool may now be considered as outsiders to secure a top four finish in the Premier League, with a jaded Manchester United hot on their heels as they have the games in hand to overhaul their old foes.
So who should be blamed for Liverpool’s looming despair? In a modern game that has no room for three and five years plans for managers, it can only be the captain of a ship that was knocked off course long ago in what was once a season of real promise.
Talksport: 'What has Klopp actually done at Liverpool except make a few people laugh in his interviews' - Fans react after Crystal Palace d…— Kop That LFC (@kop_that) April 23, 2017
Klppp may be affable and engaging in the eyes of many neutrals, but he can have no excuses if his side come up short of their minimum expectation of a top four finish in the Premier League.
Some 18 months into his reign as Liverpool manager, this German has had enough time to find a winning formula at Anfield and he should certainly have addressed his side’s enduring inability to defend set-pieces more effectively than they did in their defeat against Palace.
“We analysed how many goals Liverpool have conceded from corners and targeted their weakness in that area,” declared Palace manager Sam Allardyce, as Christian Benteke punished his former employers by scoring two goals that cemented his side’s position in the Premier League for another year.
While Allardyce likes to portray himself as some kind of football visionary, it does not need a degree in football science to assess the primary area of weakness in Liverpool’s make-up.
Klopp inherited these defensive problems when he took over from Brendan Rodgers at Anfield and he has blatantly flopped in his efforts to solve them, with a succession of Premier League minnows taking advantage of a glaring blemish in Liverpool’s make-up.
Whether it is personnel changes or a psychological issue at the root of Liverpool's set-piece misery, Klopp and his coaching staff have yet to find a solution to an issue that has haunted them for far too long.
If Liverpool miss on a place in next season’s Champions League as a result of an pressure point that could and should have been relaxed long ago, the finger of blame should be pointed directly at Klopp.
GUARDIOLA NOT THE MESSIAH MAN CITY THOUGHT HE WAS
Social media can be a cruel platform when a football team suffers a crushing defeat and after Manchester City slipped to a somewhat surprising FA Cup semi-final defeat against Arsenal at Wembley on Sunday, their manager Pep Guardiola became the subject of ridicule.
0 - Pep Guardiola won't win any trophy this season, a first in his career as a manager. Failure. pic.twitter.com/bZ6R0ONcRy— OptaJean (@OptaJean) April 23, 2017
With the cheeky #Fraudiola hashtag being used to taunt this celebrated manager as he faces up to the worst season of his coaching career, many were keen to point out that the coach who stormed to success in his time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich was not, in fact, the tactical genius his hype machine suggested he might be.
“If Pep is honest in his end-of-year review, he hasn’t done anything his predecessor Manuel Pellegrini didn’t do last season,” Sky Sports pundit Niall Quinn told Independent.ie
“In fact, he has done less up to now because Pellegrini won a trophy with the League Cup last year. Pellegrini also got further in the Champions League than Guardiola, so there are big questions to answer.
“In my eyes, there hasn’t been any definitive improvement at City, which is a big surprise when you consider the reputation Guardiola had when he arrived.”
Quinn damning assessment of this decorated Spanish coach is hard to dispute and if his side were to lose to local rivals Manchester United in Thursday night’s crucial derby game, the consolation prize of a top four finish in the Premier League may also be snatched away from him.
This is not what Manchester City chiefs had in mind during their five-year pursuit of Guardiola, with the prospect of this previously flawless coach being sacked for the first time in his career looming large unless he finds a winning formula very quickly.
THE POWER OF PUNDITRY
Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling could never be accused of lacking passion and his on-air rant calling for the sacking of Hartlepool manager Davie Jones certainly came from the heart.
Stelling is Hartlepool’s sole celebrity fan and his agony at seeing his team slip into the relegation positions at the foot of League Two inspired him to make a call for Jones to 'go and go now'.
Jeff Stelling goes off on Hartlepool United live on Soccer Saturday pic.twitter.com/2JxDqGXKRY— BigSport (@BigSportGB) April 23, 2017
Well, the club heard his pleas as it was confirmed on Monday morning that Jones and Hartlepool had ‘parted company’ with just two games left in the season.
This story may have provided evidence - to a point - of the power of a TV pundit, so we can expect Eamon Dunphy and the rest of the RTE soccer panel to be emboldened by their new sense of self-importance in the coming weeks.
INDEPENDENT.IE TEAM OF THE WEEK
Eldin Jakupovic (Hull)
Nacho Monreal (Arsenal)
Eric Bailly (Manchester United)
Nemanja Matic (Chelsea)
Harry Arter (Bournemouth)
N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Tom Carroll (Swansea)
Anthony Martial (Manchester United)
Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)