Going for glory in the EFL Cup: Man United, Liverpool, Hull or Southampton?
Which of the four remaining teams in the EFL Cup will claim the season's first piece of silverware in 2017?
The English Football League Cup is the first piece of silverware up for grabs in England in 2016-17.
A chance to appear at Wembley, collect a medal and secure European football for 2017 is a great incentive for all 72 teams who entered into the competition.
Even though the bigger Premier League clubs often play youngsters and inexperienced players in their EFL Cup games, they begin to take it very seriously once the semi-finals come into view. Those games – Manchester United v Hull and Southampton v Liverpool – begin on 10 January and here’s a close-up look at each team’s form and prospects…
Ever since their third round fixture at Northampton in September, manager Jose Mourinho has treated the EFL Cup with quite a bit of respect. That was reflected in their 3-1 win in that game and the fact that Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford were all on the pitch in the second half. The fourth round was definitely a game to take seriously – Man. City came to Old Trafford and were beaten 1-0 thanks to Juan Mata’s second-half strike. The quarter-final at home to West Ham was much more open and Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial bagged a brace each in a comfortable 4-1 win. Given that United could struggle to finish in the Champions League places this season, expect a full-strength team to take on Hull in early January. It would be quite an upset not to see The Red Devils in the final on 26 February.
Is the League Cup semi-final just an unwanted distraction for Hull from their mega battle to avoid relegation? Or, would a shock victory over Man. United send their confidence sky high for the rest of the season? Boss Mike Phelan will be telling his players the latter and those players that remember the FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal in 2014 will be desperate to reach Wembley again. Hull are the only semi-final team not to keep a clean sheet in the League Cup this season, having conceded in their wins over Exeter, Stoke, Bristol City and Newcastle. The Tigers have battled hard to get this far and if they can keep it tight at Old Trafford in the first leg they may just fancy nicking a goal at The KC Stadium.
The Reds line up in their 17th League Cup semi-final, which is more than any other team, and third in a row thanks to a 2-0 quarter-final win over Leeds. That victory will be remembered for Ben Woodburn scoring in the 81st minute to become the club’s youngest scorer at 17 years and 45 days. Jurgen Klopp’s team crushed Burton Albion 5-0 in the second round back in August, before a 3-0 thumping of Derby at Pride Park. Tottenham made a fight of it at Anfield in the fourth round but Liverpool still ran out 2-1 winners thanks to a Daniel Sturridge double. Even though Klopp is eyeing a Premier League challenge in 2017, Liverpool’s league form and pedigree in this competition makes them a good EFL cup bet to pick up their ninth League Cup trophy. If you’re looking to back goal scorers, Sturridge is top scorer in the competition with four goals and his sharpness in the box could be key to seeing off Southampton.
The Saints have certainly reached the semi-finals the hard way, beating three Premier League teams in the process. Crystal Palace were the first to fall in round three thanks to a 2-0 win through goals by Charlie Austin and youngster Jake Hesketh. Another victory at home – 1-0 over struggling Sunderland – set up a tricky trip to Arsenal. But a classy 2-0 win against the below strength Gunners has delivered the double header with Liverpool. Claude Puel’s team won’t want a repeat of last season’s 6-1 thrashing at St Mary’s in the League Cup and will take heart from the fact they haven’t lost to Liverpool in their last two league meetings.