Tag Archives: Carabao Cup

Chelsea unlock new attacking level tactical switch in win over Tottenham

Chelsea have one foot in the Carabao Cup final after their 2-0 win over Tottenham at Stamford Bridge last night.

Thomas Tuchel’s side took a 2-0 lead into half-time thanks to goals from Kai Havertz and a Japhet Tanganga own goal, as they lined up with a back-four for the first time under the German coach.

Immediately the differences could be seen in their play, and Chelsea fans were delighted with the differences in their performance.



Tuchel opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation early on, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso installed as traditional full-backs rather than wing-backs. In a midfield two was Jorginho and Saul Niguez, with Mason Mount just ahead of them. Havertz and Hakim Ziyech took up the winger positions with Romelu Lukaku up front.

It didn’t take long for Chelsea to implement themselves on the game, pressing high and keeping possession well in the early minutes.

They quickly established a press too that didn’t allow Spurs out of their own half. A box between the two central midfielders and the two centre-backs meant that whenever the ball reached that zone, they would all squeeze and force possession to be given up immediately.

There was also their man-to-man press, which caught Spurs out early as Alonso pinched the ball from Emerson Royal for the opening goal to assist Havertz.

After that goal though, is when we saw the difference in performance between the back three and the back four really come to life.

Chelsea played with a much higher tempo with one, two and three touch passes in midfield to keep the ball ticking over and force Spurs to chase them.

They were patient in their play, but also had far more intensity in their game and far more intent in their attacks than we’ve seen any time recently.

Lukaku just missed with a header after excellent wing play by Ziyech, while Saul and Jorginho completely dominated the midfield areas. By the time the half-time whistle blew, Spurs hadn’t had a single attempt on goal, had just four touches in the Chelsea box and had just 31% possession.

The second half was much less eventful, with the Blues happy to manage the lead with Spurs not carrying a threat but the performance as a whole was a sign of Chelsea’s potential under Tuchel.

The 3-4-3 has gone stale recently and their attacking potential was limited in that shape anyway. They now have proven that they have the capability to play in a more expansive way with a different system if needs be, and that should strike fear into the rest of the Premier League and Europe.

Manchester City knocked out of Carabao Cup on penalties by West Ham

Manchester City will not be winning a record fifth consecutive Carabao Cup this season after they were eliminated in the fourth-round by West Ham on penalties.

Pep Guardiola named a relatively strong lineup for the clash against the Hammers, who had eliminated Manchester United in the previous round at Old Trafford, including the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, John Stones, Fernandinho and Riyad Mahrez.

But they couldn’t break down a resilient West Ham side, despite having 65% possession and 25 attempts on goal throughout the 90 minutes as they were held to a goalless draw.



The game went straight to penalties after 90 minutes and after West Ham went five from five with their spot kicks, Phil Foden’s miss from City’s first attempt was enough to condemn them to defeat.

It’s the first time in five years that they have been eliminated from the competition, when Juan Mata scored the only goal of the game when they went to Old Trafford to take on Jose Mourinho’s Man United side.

It means a few less opportunities for youngsters such as Cole Palmer, Samuel Edozie and Zack Steffen but also means there could be even less minutes for fringe first-team players such as Nathan Ake, Oleksandr Zinchenko and even Raheem Sterling at this point.

Elsewhere in the competition on Wednesday night, Liverpool beat Preston 2-0 with a weakened team despite being under a lot of pressure for spells while Leicester were successful on penalties against fellow Premier League opposition Brighton. Tottenham also secured a 1-0 win over Burnley to progress to the quarter-final.

On Tuesday, Arsenal defeated Leeds at the Emirates with a 2-0 win while Chelsea defeated Southampton on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge. Sunderland are also the only remaining League One side in the competition thanks to a win on penalties against Queens Park Rangers.

The quarter-final draw will take place on Saturday morning during the Soccer AM show on Sky Sports from 10:30am.

Manchester City make it four-in-a-row but it’s no shock they keep winning the cup

Manchester City made it four Carabao Cup wins in a row thanks to a late Aymeric Laporte header at Wembley as they beat Tottenham 1-0.

Pep Guardiola’s side were dominant in the early exchanges but couldn’t find a way to put the ball in the net, with two goal bound shots blocked on the line by Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld as City registered just one shot on target.

The second half was more of a non-event with both teams largely cancelling each other out and no real chances created, until Kevin De Bruyne drilled a free-kick across goal and Laporte rose above Moussa Sissoko to squeeze the ball past Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on the post and into the net.

The win means that not only have City now won the last four instalments of the competition, but they’re now level with Liverpool for the most wins in history on eight. Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho lifted their sixth titles, meaning they have won more on their own than any other club not named Manchester City or Liverpool.

While the success is obviously worth talking about, is it any real surprise that they win it so regularly?

It’s a competition where the vast majority of the top sides rest their strongest lineup until the latter stages since the games are in midweek between league games and often against lower league opposition in the early rounds.

It’s easy to say that the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Mikel Arteta and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer don’t take the competition seriously, but they rotate just as much if not more than Guardiola does. The big difference is the strength in depth that City have available to them.

City’s squad is so deep that you could make an argument that you could field two different starting lineups using just players from the Etihad Stadium that could qualify for the top four.

When you have such insane depth, it makes progressing through the competition almost expected no matter the opposition they come up against. Even once they get to the latter rounds and get paired against top teams, they have the ability to mix and match their squad and just out-gun everyone.

Now it’s not fair to just give the credit to their depth, because the players that play always perform and have made it their own personal mission to collect as many trophies as possible but it certainly plays a part.

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Guardiola addressed it himself before this final, when questioned by Sky Sports about the strength of his starting lineup.

“Every team we play is a strong team. We play to win in every game. Are you saying the other players not playing today aren’t strong? No, every team we play is a strong team because we want to win every game.”

Manchester City deserve every bit of success they get. They play great football, with great players and run the club excellently. Yes they spend a tonne of money to do it, but at least they actually perform to the standard you’d expect for a team like that.

They will now look to seal a variation of a treble, with just six points needed from the final five Premier League games to officially seal the title while they prepare for a huge Champions League semi-final clash against Paris Saint-Germain across the next fortnight.

Ryan Mason leads charge for trophy and top four with win in first game as Spurs boss

Tottenham prepared themselves for the Carabao Cup final with a 2-1 win over Southampton in Ryan Mason’s first game as caretaker manager.

The Saints took the lead in the first half when Danny Ings headed in from a corner, but Spurs fought back in the second half in a much improved performance. Gareth Bale scored a wonderful curling effort from a tight angle to equalise, before Heung-Min Son scored a late penalty to seal all three points.

The win moved the north London side to within just two points of the top four, having played a game more and with five games remaining in their season.

It was a mixed performance from Tottenham, who for the first time this season failed to register a single shot on target in the first half.

Their passing was sloppy and Southampton threatened them several times, with Hugo Lloris making a huge double save early on in the game. It was clear they missed their star man Harry Kane on the pitch but Mason made some slight positional changes at half-time too help get his side higher up the pitch and it worked a treat.

Having started with Giovani Lo Celso in the 10 and with Tanguy Ndombele in the double pivot alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, he opted to move Ndombele higher to essentially have two options between the lines and Lucas Moura dropped deeper to almost create a diamond. Bale and Son made their inverted runs like centre-forwards and Southampton couldn’t cope with the way Spurs were able to move the ball around.

It was the first time that Spurs have come from behind to win a game they were losing at half-time this season and there seemed to be a togetherness at the end of the game between the players that we haven’t seen in a while.

While Kane is described as 50/50 as being available for Sunday’s cup final, the likelihood that he sits out is low. With that said it means Lucas Moura is likely to be the man to step out of the lineup, while Moussa Sissoko or Dele Alli could come in for Lo Celso too to beef the midfield up a bit.

With just a handful of games left plus the cup final, Mason is unlikely to be able to earn himself the role of manager on a permanent basis. But he has kept his side in with a chance of the top four should teams around them continue to drop points randomly, while also affording himself the chance to win the club a trophy for the first time in 13 years.

Tactically he seems astute with the changes he made in this game and Bale was quick to comment on the “great team talk” at half-time that he gave them to prep them up and improve them.

Obviously it’s just one game and I don’t think he ripped up any trees to beat a team who have now lost 12 of their last 15 games in the Premier League, but it’s a start to get them back to winning ways after just two wins in nine prior to the game.

The cup final now is a huge moment for the club, but a pressureless moment largely because of the decision made by Daniel Levy to sack Jose Mourinho prior to it. Nobody now expects Spurs to even challenge Manchester City on the pitch, but if they show up and perform well they have every chance of causing the upset.

Kevin De Bruyne injured as Manchester City quadruple bid crumbles

Manchester City saw their quadruple hopes crushed at the weekend after defeat by Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final, but it was the injury to Kevin De Bruyne that they were most worried about after the game.

Thomas Tuchel’s side were excellent on the night as they completely nullified the City attack and progressed into their fourth FA Cup final in five seasons thanks to a counter-attack goal from Hakim Ziyech.

City struggled to create chances throughout the game and their chances were dealt a hammer blow when main man De Bruyne picked up an ankle injury less than five minutes into the second half and was forced off the pitch.

The Belgian superstar got a knock on the ankle in a challenge and stayed down, immediately signalling for a change to the subs bench.

After the game Pep Guardiola admitted that it “didn’t look good” and that he would undergo a scan in the coming days with fears that if he has suffered ligament damage he could miss the rest of the season.

As if going out in the semi-final of the FA Cup wasn’t enough, the Cityzens are scheduled to take on Tottenham in the Carabao Cup final before a two-legged Champions League semi-final against the scintillating Paris Saint-Germain side.

City were without De Bruyne for a spell earlier in the season and were able to maintain a spectacular winning run, but in recent games he has been the man keeping it all ticking over along with Phil Foden.

Ilkay Gundogan’s purple patch of goalscoring seems to be over, while Raheem Sterling has found himself dropped from the side for the most part due to his stuttering form. Without those or the legendary Sergio Aguero in form, City looked toothless for the most part against Chelsea and could struggle in the final stretch of the season.

With Jose Mourinho almost certain to set his Spurs side up in a defensive way in the cup final and PSG’s best chance of winning coming with a counter-attacking set up in the Champions League the lack of bite they now have in attack could be a problem.

It’s also an issue for Belgium, who will be terrified that they could be without one of their star men ahead of Euro 2020.

Eden Hazard has barely featured for Real Madrid over the last two years which puts his involvement at risk for Belgium, meaning De Bruyne’s role in the team has become even more important. If ankle ligament damage is confirmed, it would leave them with a huge creative conundrum.

City now must prepare themselves for the prospect of being without their main man for the final run in of the season, in their biggest games yet.

Manchester City quadruple run is set – will they do it?

The path is set for Manchester City to make history in English football with an unprecedented quadruple, with Pep Guardiola’s side having the remainder of their season planned out in front of them.

City are still in both domestic cup competitions, top of the Premier League and in the Champions League quarter-finals as we enter April and the squad is performing at a level that has teams beaten before they even step on the pitch to compete.

So will they do it? Could they do it? It’s hard to bet against right now.

The Blues made it to Wembley and booked an FA Cup semi-final with a 2-0 win over Everton at Goodison Park this past weekend, with late goals from Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne enough for them to beat off Carlo Ancelotti’s stubborn side.

It set up a semi-final with Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea side next month, with the new German coach having a incredible impact since joining the Stamford Bridge side. It will be a tactical battle that the neutral is likely to enjoy, with both teams playing attacking football and not wanting to surrender possession of the football to the opposition.

The winner of that tie will face the winner of the other semi-final, which will consist of Leicester City and Southampton. The Foxes dispatched of Manchester United at the King Power Stadium thanks to a brace from former City striker Kelechi Iheanacho, while the Saints were able to navigate a tricky tie against Championship outfit Bournemouth with a 3-0 win thanks to Nathan Redmond’s double.

City are the favourites for the tournament and so long as they can see off Tuchel’s side, they will win the competition barring a complete collapse of a performance in the final. Beating Tuchel’s side is easier said than done though, with Chelsea having conceded just twice in the 14 games that he’s been in charge and only one of them was scored by an opposition player.

They beat Atletico Madrid home and away in the Champions League and the only dropped points they’ve seen were against Wolves in Tuchel’s first game, Manchester United, Southampton and Leeds. City’s defensive strength has been seen this season too with their own fantastic defensive run, so it’s likely to be a much more tense affair than you’d usually associate with a big game.

In the Carabao Cup, they’ve already set up a final with London rivals Tottenham later next month and with the current goings on at both cups it’s hard to see them not winning that one.

Jose Mourinho is of course always a factor, with his record in domestic cup competitions fantastic everywhere he’s been. But with his Spurs side in disarray after crashing out of the Europa League to Dinamo Zagreb and struggling in the league, it would be a huge shock to see them overcome such a dominant Manchester City side.

In Europe, the task is much harder. Not only because they’ve never won the competition before and have little experience in the latter stages, but also because their path to the cup is littered with tough fixtures.

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In the quarter-finals they have drawn against free-scoring Borussia Dortmund, with the second leg set to be played at Signal Iduna Park. They’ll have to stop the machine that is Erling Haaland, but also the likes of Marco Reus, Jadon Sancho, Thorgan Hazard and young England midfielder Jude Bellingham from shining.

For all Dortmund’s brilliance going forward, they are incredibly open defensively and that is a recipe for disaster against a Guardiola side. With their defensive excellence this season matched with the fact they have goals all over their side, it’s likely that City will be able to find their way through to the semi-finals for just the second time in their history.

There they’ll face the winner of the quarter-final clash between both of last season’s finalists, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain. The two powerhouses are to battle it out for a place in the semi-final and they’ve all been placed in the same side of the draw – making it a heavyweight affair regardless of which two of the four teams go through.

For all City’s dominance and ability, they’re likely to be underdogs if they come up against Bayern Munich. The Bundesliga champions and current Champions League holders are likely to be a super tough test and they have so far been the benchmark in Europe, winning 19 games in a row in the premier club competition stretching back to last season.

Even if City do manage to progress to the final, they’re sure to face one of Europe’s big boys again barring a shock. Chelsea are due to face off with Porto in the quarter-finals, while Liverpool take on 13-time champions Real Madrid in the other.

If City are to win the quadruple this season, nobody could say they won’t have earned it.

Nobody has ever been closer to winning all four competitions in a season than City are right now, and yet even now they’re still so far away.

Super Man City make it 21 wins in a row with win over Wolves

Manchester City made it a club record 28 games unbeaten and 21 wins in a row with a 4-1 win over Wolves at the Etihad Stadium.

The Blues were dominant against a Wolves side who were on a five game unbeaten game in the league themselves coming into the game and took a 1-0 lead in the first half after great work from Riyad Mahrez forced an own goal from Leander Dendoncker.

Wolves equalised with their first touch in the opposition penalty area from a Conor Coady header, before City turned up the pressure and scored three more times through Riyad Mahrez and a Gabriel Jesus brace.

While the club failed to get a clean sheet for the second consecutive game, they remain comfortably the best defence in the division with only 17 goals conceded in 27 games so far in the league. They also extended their place as the league’s top scorers too, moving to 56 goals scored despite star striker Sergio Aguero having not chipped in at all.

It means 21 wins in a row for the Citizens but the form has been so special at both ends of the pitch. The aggregate score over those games has City winning 55-8, an absolutely incredible number.

Defensively, the form of Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias has been exceptional while John Stones’ resurgence has seen him back in contention for the national team for the first time in well over a year.

Further up the pitch, Guardiola has been able to count on all of Mahrez, Gundogan, Sterling, Foden, Bernardo Silva and Jesus in recent weeks for goals and assists. When adding to that the return to action of Kevin De Bruyne and Aguero, City seem a formidable outfit not only domestically but also on the continent.

They are now turning their focus to an unprecedented quadruple and it’s a very big possibility looking at the way the season is set up right now. They face a maximum of 21 games remaining and with one of those games being the Carabao Cup final against Tottenham and with the current gap at the top of the league being almost insurmountable, they can really prioritise the Champions League and FA Cup if they want to.

The games coming thick and fast across the season have allowed Guardiola to rotate and get his entire squad firing whenever called upon, rather than having some players going several weeks without a game.

The likes of Kyle Walker haven’t seen the amount of games they usually would but because of the schedule have still been able to fit in at least one game a week for the most part – meaning his sharpness is at the same level it usually would be and performances stay consistent.

The same can be said for the attacking players and while nobody is hitting the high numbers that are usually associated with a Guardiola attack, the goals are being evenly shared out among the squad.

Manchester City v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League : News Photo

Last season Raheem Sterling got 31 goals on his own in all competitions as the club’s top scorer. This year he is currently sat on 13, joint highest with Ilkay Gundogan – who is having the best scoring season of his City career. Four other players have eight or more goals and 19 players in total have scored for the first team this season as part of their tally of 91 so far. Last season, only 16 players scored their tally of 149 goals in all competitions.

Despite some phenomenal teams in recent years, including the Centurions of three seasons ago, Manchester City now are in the best position they’ve ever been in to win the lot.

They’re comfortably the best team in the country and you can easily make a case for them being the best in Europe. So long as they haven’t peaked too early, which is possible but seems unlikely at this point, it will take something special to stop them right now.

John Stones has seen form resurrected for Manchester City

In the summer of 2020, it seemed almost certain that John Stones was going to be heading out of the exit doors at the Etihad Stadium.

But following a goal and yet another clean sheet in the Carabao Cup semi-final win against Manchester United, the 26-year-old is among the best central defenders in England this season.

A rock solid performance alongside Ruben Dias means City have now kept nine clean sheets in Stones’ last ten appearances, with the only goal conceded coming in the 93rd minute against Chelsea in a 3-1 win.

The resurrection of his form and reputation has potentially saved his City career but also reignited his chances of being in the England squad.

More importantly, he seems to have proven his fitness for once too. Stones has been able to play in ten of Man City’s last 12 fixtures, which have all comes in the space of 42 days. It’s a vast change from the young player who struggled to play a run of fixtures in the past. He’s never played more than 27 league appearances for Manchester City and has already made half as many appearances this season than last.

He’s showed a quick turn of pace to deal with fast attackers, reads the game well with his positioning and just seems to be in the right place at the right time constantly.

His partnership with Dias has also seen him edge Laporte out of the team, with the Frenchman having previously been Pep Guardiola’s go-to man in defence.

Stones’ passing has always been a big factor in his game, with his ability to play through the lines he suit a Guardiola system perfectly as a ball-playing centre-back but he seems to have managed to play himself straight back into the starting lineup.

It was expected he would leave in the summer, with Eric Garcia moving ahead of him in the pecking order at the end of last season and Fernandinho seemingly being used primarily in defence.

But with Garcia opting to refuse to sign a new deal in favour of a summer move to Barcelona and with Nicolas Otamendi moving to Benfica as part of the deal to bring Dias to the club, Stones was given a final chance.

He’s now entered the final 18 months of his contract but it’s fair to say when he plays like this he is a favourite of Guardiola. He’s back and he’s better than ever.

Manchester United need semi-final win to show real progress

It’s been an interesting season for Manchester United so far this year, with many ups and downs plotted throughout.

They started the Premier League season, but currently sit in second place behind Liverpool only on goal difference having played a game less. They started their Champions League campaign with three wins from four games, needing a point to qualify for the next round. However they’ll now face Real Sociedad in the Europa League round of 32 having lost their final two games.

Their domestic cup form has been good though, with the Reds defeating Luton, Brighton and Everton without conceding a goal to set up a semi-final clash against local rivals Manchester City.

The two clubs met in the semi-finals of last season’s tournament, with both teams winning away from home as Pep Guardiola’s side ultimately progressed 3-2 on aggregate. They went on to win the competition for a third time in a row, showing how much Guardiola covets silverware no matter what form it comes in.

That is something that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying to instil in his team, after falling short on several occasions last season. In addition to the semi-final loss to Man City, the Reds were also beaten by Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final and by Sevilla in the Europa League semi-final last season.

Those results showed good quality in the squad, but ultimately showed they were still short of the level that they aspire to be at.

In the summer Solskjaer invested money in bringing in players who have won trophies before. Donny Van de Beek has won the Eredivisie and Dutch Cup, Alex Telles has won the Turkish Super Lig and Turkish Cup, as well as the Portuguese Primer League twice and Portuguese cup, while Edinson Cavani has won the Coppa Italia with Napoli, the Ligue 1 title six times with PSG and 11 other domestic cups with the French side.

All of these go hand in hand with other winners in the squad. David De Gea won the Premier League title under Sir Alex Ferguson, Nemanja Matic has won the Premier League twice with Chelsea, Fred has won the Ukrainian league with Shakhtar, Victor Lindelof won leagues and cups with Benfica, Juan Mata won the Champions League with Chelsea and Paul Pogba has won several leagues and cups with Juventus as well as winning the World Cup with France.

Ajax v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Final : News Photo

Even more of the squad won trophies under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, while the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial even won the FA Cup under Louis van Gaal. There are winners in the squad.

But together, as a team, they haven’t got there yet. Winning a trophy is the first step in building a winning mentality amongst a squad, regardless of how many trophies the players have won elsewhere.

You need to build an atmosphere where winning is everything. Bruno Fernandes has spoken about it in recent weeks, while the likes of Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw have also said that trophies are the end goal.

There is more than local pride at stake when these two sides meet in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup. For Guardiola, it’s another chance to add silverware to already glittering career CV. But for Solskjaer it’s about overcoming that mental hurdle.

It’s not only to show the players that they are good enough to compete with the best teams in Europe at the business end of competitions, but also to show that there is progress being made.

Defeats happen and they won’t make it to every cup final every year, but when they get into these scenarios they need to take advantage of them. There’s no better time than now.

Is the Carabao Cup enough for Tottenham and Jose Mourinho?

It’s been 13 years since Tottenham Hotspur won a trophy, when they beat Avram Grant’s Chelsea side 2-1 after extra-time at Wembley Stadium.

It was supposed to be the start of something fruitful and successful, but instead it turned into a one and done. The special era that consisted of players such as Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov, Ledley King and others won just the sole pot of silverware.

Now as we enter a new year, Spurs have a chance to make their first cup final since that day in 2008 when they take on Brentford in the Carabao Cup semi-final on Tuesday night.

In a slightly different layout to usual, the semi-final stage will take place as a one-off game this year instead of the usual two-legged final four.

It means that Mourinho’s side need to navigate a home fixture against another London side, who currently reside in the division below them.

The Portuguese boss has an affinity with the League Cup. He has won the tournament on four separate occasions, including during both of his tenures as Chelsea boss.

It’s always been his way of showing everyone that his process is working and instilling confidence in his players ahead of the season run-in. This year will be more different still, with the final now taking place in April instead of it’s usual spot in the final weekend of February.

Should Mourinho win the tournament, it will be seen as a success for the club. But is it?

With a new, shiny Β£1bn stadium and a squad worth hundreds of millions of pounds, is a League Cup that other clubs don’t take nearly as seriously as they do other competitions really that successful?

It’s certainly a start. You need to win trophies to breed a winning mentality, something that Mauricio Pochettino never quite managed. The club need to show the top players entering their prime years that they’re serious about progressing and becoming a club that wins trophies, not just challenges for them.

Harry Kane has specifically said for years that he wants to win trophies and as the England skipper turns 28 later this year, he is still yet to lift any type of silverware.

Rumours have begun circulating that the biggest clubs in the world are eyeing up a potential move for him and there’s only so long he can go before he seriously considers the move.

Mourinho was brought into the club to win and this is the best chance he has of doing so this season. The league table right now is tight, with any sort of good run of form likely to put you towards the top of the table.

But Spurs should be content to walk before they can run. They have the talent to win the league in the squad, but it shouldn’t be an expectation.

A win against Brentford will have the fans dreaming of silverware once again, and this time they’ll be hoping that it will be the start of an era of success rather than another one and done.