The dust has settled on the EFL Cup quarterfinals, and except for Southampton’s upset win over Arsenal, the results stayed true to the teams’ standings. Manchester United bounced back in style after four successive home draws, trouncing West Ham United 4-1. The Red Devils were rewarded with a semifinal tie against Hull City.
On the other hand, Southampton have another big tie, after they beat Arsenal 2-0, with a semifinal clash against high-flying Liverpool. Manchester United and Southampton will play the first legs at home. The first legs will be held on 10th and 11th of January with the second legs scheduled for 24th and 25th of the same month. The final at Wembley Stadium will be held on February 26th.
Having reached the semifinal, this is a competition now, that all teams will take seriously, notably Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese made his intentions clear by sending out a strong team against West Ham last night, and his player responded in kind.
For Mike Phelan and Hull City, the competition is a ray of light in what has otherwise been a rather disappointing return to the Premier League for the Tigers. Phelan was Sir Alex Ferguson’s trusted second-fiddle at United, but this time around, he can rest assured that he will get no favours from his old team.
Mourinho will look to a rejuvenated Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to guide United through, but a two-legged semifinal right after the festive period is the last thing United would have wanted. After three games in six days between Christmas and New Year, United will have an FA Cup third round tie that weekend, before the semifinal of Tuesday or Wednesday.
Liverpool seem to love this competition, having made their 17th semifinal, with a 2-0 win over Leeds United at Anfield. But the Reds will face similar problems as United. Jurgen Klopp has already been vocal about the clutter of fixtures around the festive period, with Liverpool playing Manchester City and Sunderland within 48 hours of each other before the FA Cup third round.
To add to their woes, Sadio Mane will be away on national team duty as he looks to help Senegal at the African Cup of Nations. There is also uncertainty surrounding Philippe Coutinho’s availability as the Brazilian has been ruled out for six weeks.
Claude Puel’s Southampton have flown under the radar but have performed reasonably well. The Saints played Liverpool at St. Mary’s only two weeks ago, with a resolute defensive performance earning them a 0-0 draw. Virgil Van Dijk and Jose Fonte stood tall on that day, and they will once again be the lynchpins for the Saints against Klopp’s men.
For Klopp, this is his third semifinal appearance in his time at Liverpool. Both the previous ones ended in victory, but Liverpool faltered at the final hurdle – against Man City in the League Cup final and against Sevilla in the Europa League final last year in Basel.
To win a trophy within six months of the start of the season would be a wonderful start to life at Old Trafford for Jose Mourinho, but Messrs. Phelan, Puel and Klopp will surely have other ideas.
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