Premier League and EFL Cup: eight talking points from the weekends action

Manchester United keep the League Cup flag flying, Swansea pin their hopes on Fernando Llorente, and Sam Allardyce maintains his faith in foreign getaways

1) Ibrahimovic shows League Cup is still a prize worth chasing

Zlatan Ibrahimovic shot his questioner a quizzical look when asked, immediately after the EFL Cup final, whether he sensed something special building at Manchester United. The competition is sometimes put in the context of the wider season a kind of stepping stone to help build confidence and a winning mentality but Ibrahimovic made clear that he felt this title was something special in its own right. The 35-year-old has won major trophies all over Europe yet sunk to his knees with joy on hearing the final whistle, while Uniteds celebrations and the shattered Southampton reactions defied any notion that the competition holds little significance for the players or their supporters. This final was a fine advert for the League Cup, complete with a compelling narrative and charismatic hero, and left no doubt that it remains a worthwhile prize. Lawrence Ostlere

2) Llorente may be the one to help Swansea stay up

It would be a stretch to say that Fernando Llorente showed Chelsea what they were missing on Saturday even if they were keen on signing him as a backup option in January, they will surely win the league without him but the Swansea striker put in another performance that suggests he will provide the necessary firepower lower down the table. The header that made the leaders afternoon rather more difficult than expected was brilliantly executed and was Llorentes ninth goal in his last 18 league appearances. He lacked support at Stamford Bridge and Swansea did not really have the personnel to make more of his hold-up play, but in a relegation battle short of consistent forwards across the board he is in the kind of form that might make all the difference. Paul Clements side look well organised and in Llorente they have a troubleshooter at the sharp end. Nick Ames

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Conte hails experienced players after win over Swansea video

3) Sunnier days could be around the corner for Crystal Palace

Sam Allardyce reckoned that Crystal Palaces two-week break was a crucial factor in his teams victory against Middlesbrough. He has often jumped at the chance to take his teams away during gaps in their winter schedules, but this time he chose to stay at home. The ultimate survival expert remains an advocate of warm-weather training, though, and Palaces exit from the FA Cup means they will not be in action for another fortnight after the trip to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, presenting them with an opportunity to recharge their batteries before hosting Watford on 18 March. The weathers so poor here, Allardyce said. Since 2001, in the Premier League, apart from with Newcastle because I got sacked before I could take them away, Ive taken every team away for the sunshine. Well be looking at that this week to see where we can go. Could a trip abroad be the difference between staying up and going down? Jacob Steinberg

4) Schneiderlin shows Everton were right to put faith in him

There were several impressive displays in Evertons midfield against Sunderland Ross Barkleys prospects of an England recall will have been enhanced in front of Gareth Southgate and Tom Davies could join him on current form but the immaculate Morgan Schneiderlin was the standout performer as the sides unbeaten run extended to nine games. Aggressive, accurate and intelligent on the ball and in the tackle, the France international underlined why Ronald Koeman, the manager, was so intent on a reunion with his former Southampton charge in the January transfer window. Signed for an initial 20m from Manchester United, rising to 24m, Schneiderlin offered style and balance in the holding midfield role, giving licence to Davies on his right and Idrissa Gana Gueye on his left to venture forward regularly. Im not surprised, I know the player, Koeman said after the 2-0 win [he rarely strays into gushing praise territory]. He needed game-time to get his rhythm but he is such a good player and he showed that in all aspects of football. The 27-year-old has made a fine start to his Everton career. Andy Hunter

Morgan
Morgan Schneiderlin slides in on Sunderlands Jermain Defoe. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

5) Maguire is providing Hull with a calm presence at the back

Harry Maguires size and strength can distract from his ability with the ball at his feet. The Hull centre-back has grown in stature this season and has become a key player under Marco Silva, who is trying to get his team to bring the ball out of defence. Along with Tom Huddlestone often dropping deep, Maguires calmness in possession has helped Hull to build from the back and they did so again in the 1-1 draw with Burnley. Silva was unhappy with the result, but Hulls improvement continues ahead of a crunch meeting with Leicester City next weekend. Maguire injured his knee in the first half but played the full 90 minutes regardless. Silva is without the centre-backs Curtis Davies and Michael Dawson and will hope scans show the injury is not serious, saying after the game: What he showed for me, his fantastic attitude and spirit, he played at 50% in the second half but he showed a big attitude. We need players like Maguire. He has the capacity for a big career. The 23-year-old former Sheffield United defender has been linked with a move away, but Hull will certainly need him between now and the end of the season as he grows in stature. James Riach

6) Stokes players need to put their minds to the task

Given the wintry weather this country is enduring right now it would perhaps be forgivable if Stokes players have already begun thinking about their summer holidays. They certainly appeared to be in full beach-mode here, losing 4-0 to Tottenham Hotspur for a third successive time and barely landing a glove on their opponents. The manner of the goals we conceded was not good enough, Mark Hughes said, and the Welshman may well be pondering what his team can and want to achieve between now and the end of the season. The aim, surely, is to better the ninthplace finish Stoke have achieved in each of the past three seasons following this defeat they sit 10th and face the daunting prospect of games against Manchester City and Chelsea in the next few weeks. Stokes record against top-six sides has been poor this season and will have to improve if they are to climb at least two places. Whats for sure is that a squad containing the likes of Joe Allen, Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri, and managed by a someone as ambitious as Hughes, should be aiming higher and doing better. Sachin Nakrani

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Harry Kane, right, scored a hat-trick to make it a miserable trip to White Hart Lane for Stoke. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

7) Bournemouths defence giving cause for concern

Bournemouths exhilarating 4-3 win over Liverpool in early December prompted much excited discussion about the potential within Eddie Howes squad, and the youthful attacking zip of players such as Ryan Fraser and Nathan Ak. Since then, however, Ak has returned to Chelsea, and Bournemouths only wins have been against off-colour Leicester and Swansea teams. The latter have since revived, which is among the reasons Howe might be concerned at the league table. A defence that has conceded at least twice in every game in 2017 would appear his main concern. At The Hawthorns on Saturday, they struggled with West Bromwich Albions set pieces, and their failure to deal with a corner led to Gareth McAuleys winner. Bournemouth should be good enough to stay up, but with other sides around them looking revitalised, they need to tighten up quickly. Tom Davies

8) West Hams Antonio is continuing to catch the eye

Slaven Bilic said of Michail Antonio that in the first half of West Hams match against Watford he played almost by himself. The manager only meant this halfway as a criticism of Antonios teammates. Yes Antonio was starting moves that he, as the teams centre-forward, would also be expected to finish while others, notably Robert Snodgrass, were hardly visible. But the way the former Nottingham Forest man took it upon himself to dictate affairs was impressive (even his sending off was the result of excessive determination). During the first half of the season, in which West Ham were consistently poor, Antonio was the shining light whichever position he was in, from right back to No10. Currently he is up front by himself in the absence of the injured Andy Carroll and on Saturday looked very much the part. Obviously strong in the air, he also ran the channels and was a threat off the shoulder his 60yard sprint and shot past Younes Kaboul led to West Hams equaliser. Antonios development this past 12 months led to him becoming an England international. If he keeps that pace up, who knows where he will get to. Paul MacInnes

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/feb/26/premier-league-talking-points-from-weekend-action

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