Let’s begin at Wembley, where Liverpool beat Everton 2-1 in an FA Cup version of the Merseyside derby.

  • Each of the first two goals was a comedy of errors. With Liverpool’s usual central defensive partnership of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger split up so Agger could, for some reason, play at left-back instead of Jose Enrique, Jamie Carragher slotted into the backline and wore the goat horns for the Nikica Jelavic opener. Not to be outdone, the Toffees’ Sylvain Distin gift-wrapped Liverpool’s equaliser just after the hour-mark, when his careless back-pass found the onrushing Luis Suarez who finished well with the outside of his right foot.
  • Andy Carroll’s 87th-minute winner—a towering header from a Craig Bellamy free-kick—was the £35 million-man’s eighth goal in all competitions this season. It’s obviously an unacceptable return given the outlay, but who knows? Perhaps the goal will inspire a purple patch that will take the striker…wait for it…into England’s Euro 2012 squad. The sad fact of the matter is that, because he plays for Liverpool, Carroll stands a much better chance of going to Poland and Ukraine than, say, Grant Holt, who has tallied 15 times this season for Norwich.

 

In the day’s big Premier League match Manchester City cut Manchester United’s lead atop the Premier League table to just two points after shellacking Norwich 6-1 at Carrow Road.

  • Argentine duo Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero combined for five goals against the Canaries, the second of which—scored by Aguero—came after a superb Tevez back-heel. Tevez, who also scored in the 18th and 73rd minutes, completed his hat-trick with 10 minutes to play and celebrated by taking a mock golf swing. It was a light-hearted moment—no problem there—but that the former City captain can make light of his disgraceful behaviour (he spent five months during the middle of the season playing golf in Argentina) shows, once again, the complete absence of a team-first mentality at Manchester City.

 

In Paris, Brandao scored in the 105th minute to give Marsille, currently ninth in Ligue 1, a win in the Coupe de la Ligue final against Lyon, who are fourth.

  • This match was absolutely dire and merits little mention, although it was nice to see Steve Mandanda lift the trophy. The Marseille goalkeeper has been one of the underachieving club’s bright spots this season and no doubt he enjoyed putting one over France number one Hugo Lloris.
  • By the way, if you haven’t seen the Coupe de la Ligue trophy, look it up. It’s like an extra-large Holy Grail, and all the members of the winning team get miniature versions.

 

In Spain, both Real Madrid and Barcelona were forced to come from behind to take the three points from Sporting Gijon and Levante, respectively. And there was a certain degree of controversy around the Barcelona win.

  • In Madrid, Sporting took the lead from the spot on the half-hour mark after Sergio Ramos was penalised, questionably at best, for handling the ball as he slid in to tackle Oscar Trejo. Gonzalo Higuain restored level terms in the 37th minute, but the truly decisive point at the match came at the break when Madrid manager Jose Mourinho made two key changes—withdrawing Sami Khedira and Jose Callejon for Angel Di Maria and Karim Benzema. Di Maria produced the match-winner in the 74th minute after crossing accurately to Cristiano Ronaldo at the far post, and Benzema wrapped up the scoring with eight minutes to play. Mourinho has had to use his magic touch more and more often in recent weeks as his side have consistently struggled early in matches.
  • In Valencia, Jose Barkero scored a 23rd-minute penalty after Sergio Busquets was made the victim of another iffy handball decision. But the night’s real controversy occurred in the 72nd minute, eight minutes after a superb Alexis Sanchez-Lionel Messi exchange resulted in the Argentine maestro pulling his side level. This time it was Isaac Cuenca calling foul—claiming to have been upended in the box by Pedro Botelho. Initially, the referee was content to wave play along, but a protest from the linesman sent Messi to the spot. Replays showed it was Cuenca who actually hacked Botelho, but in any event the lifeline ensured next Saturday’s Clasico will have title implications.

Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer

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