Carabao Cup semi-final: Time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to turn potential into major prizes?
There are no second chances. No tomorrow. No second legs. This is traditional cup football at its best, involving two great rivals.
Manchester United and Manchester City lock horns in the Carabao Cup semi-final, knowing a place at Wembley awaits the winner. Extra-time will be used if the sides cannot be separated after 90 minutes. Then we’d need penalties.
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Ask anyone that has played competitive sport and the majority will tell you the same: losing a semi-final is worse than the final. The current crop of Manchester United players would no doubt agree. It’s probably time to change that narrative.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team suffered three semi-final exits in domestic and European cup competitions last season. City, Chelsea and Sevilla all edged past United to reach finals, and this clash against Pep Guardiola’s side will give Solskjaer and his team the opportunity to rest what is becoming a bit of a hoodoo.
Having failed to win any trophy since the Europa League under Jose Mourinho in 2017, the honours board at Old Trafford is in desperate need of a new addition. The longer the wait goes, the more the pressure builds on Solskjaer. As he and his skipper Harry Maguire have said in recent months, Manchester United are a club that need to be winning trophies.
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Solskjaer’s first piece of silverware would be a huge breakthrough moment with the time now to turn glimpses of promise into victories in big matches.
“Last year we were just not capable of going through, I think we’ve improved since then and we are going to give it a go,” said Solskjaer.
The United boss is right. United have improved.
If you haven’t heard, Solskjaer has taken his boys to second place in the Premier League.
Since losing to Arsenal 1-0 on November 1, United are unbeaten in 11 domestic matches, winning nine and scoring 25 goals on the way. If they sustain their current levels, then Liverpool and City may just have something to worry about in the league.
But the Premier League can be put on the rack for the time being. United must get into cup-tie mode.
However, if there was ever a team built to be a perfect semi-final side, Manchester City are it. Guardiola’s men have progressed from each of their last five League Cup semi-final ties, going on to win the trophy each time. They are aiming to win the competition for a fourth successive season, something only one other team (Liverpool 1981-84) has managed in history.
You have to go back to 26 October 2016 for the last time Guardiola suffered defeat in the Carabao Cup – his energy for the competition is unwavering.
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Confidence will be sky high within the camp, too. City were dazzling at Stamford Bridge, dispatching Chelsea with a scintillating display of attacking football backed up by another solid defensive showing, led by the brick wall that is Ruben Dias. Only a deflected Semi Ajayi goal for West Brom and Callum Hudson-Odoi’s late consolation has passed his watch in his last seven appearances.
This City team now appreciate how to defend well and he’s a big reason for that. Stopping a rampant United attack, that includes the deadly Bruno Fernandes, will be one of his toughest challenges to date.
We have all the ingredients for a fascinating derby day encounter.
How to follow
Man Utd vs Man City will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Main Event from 7pm on Wednesday; kick-off at 7.45pm. Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app. Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after the final whistle.
Solskjaer is almost certain to pick his strongest XI for this critical showdown.
Manchester United have had five days’ preparation for this fixture but the game may have come too soon for Victor Lindelof, who has missed the last two fixtures with a back problem.
Edinson Cavani is serving the second of a three-game suspension. Dean Henderson has yet to concede a goal in this competition for United and is likely to retain his spot. Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo are long-term absentees.
Guardiola has raised concerns with playing this amount of games in this relentless period and is likely to shuffle his Manchester City pack just three days after beating Chelsea whilst also dealing with Covid-19 issues within his squad.
Ederson, Kyle Walker, Eric Garcia and Gabriel Jesus missed the Chelsea win after testing positive for the virus, while there were also reports that Ferran Torres is also self-isolating after coming into contact with someone with the virus. Nathan Ake and Aymeric Laporte both missed the clash at Stamford Bridge with injury. Zack Steffen should continue to deputise in goal while Sergio Aguero and Riyad Mahrez will be fresh after only coming on late in that 3-1 win.
- The away team won both the League Cup semi-final legs between Man Utd and Man City last season (3-1 City first leg, 1-0 United second leg), with the Citizens going through 3-2 on aggregate.
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their last three games against Man City in all competitions (W2 D1) without conceding a goal. They haven’t gone four without defeat against their rivals since February 2011.
- The home team has ended on the winning side in just three of the last 14 matches between Man Utd and Man City in all competitions (D3 L8).
- This is Manchester United’s 16th appearance in the League Cup semi-finals, with the Red Devils progressing to the final nine times. However, they have lost two of their last three semi-final ties in the competition, having progressed from eight of nine before that.
- Seven of Manchester United’s eight goals in the League Cup this season have been scored by different players (Mata x2, Rashford, Greenwood, McTominay, Pogba, Martial, Cavani). They last had more in 2016/17, when they went on to win the competition (9).
- Manchester City have lost just two of their 23 League Cup matches under Pep Guardiola (W17 D4), though both defeats have come versus Manchester United (in 2016 and 2020). Guardiola has lost three of his six matches against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (50 per cent), his worst loss percentage against any manager he has faced at least five times.
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