It’s EFL Cup Semi-Final week and we are in for a treat. Two nights, two derbies, too good.
First up under the floodlights is a capital clash between Tottenham and Brentford. On paper, a dream draw for Spurs. A home tie against Championship opposition is all you could ask for.
But this is Brentford. A Championship team who are built differently, a team who have been within touching distance of the Premier League over the last couple of years, and a team who are more than comfortable against top-tier opposition.
Southampton, West Brom, Fulham and Newcastle have all been stung during the Bees’ impressive run to the last four. Thomas Frank’s talented squad have also gone 15 Championship matches without defeat, a run stretching back to mid-October. They now sit fourth in the table, six points behind table-topping Norwich City with a game in hand.
The stars? One obvious name is Ivan Toney. When Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma departed, breaking up the BMW triumvirate, Brentford needed an answer. Toney ticked the boxes. He topped the League One scoring charts with 24 goals last season and a few months on, he heads the Championship with 16.
Highly-rated goalkeeper David Raya is as good with the ball at his feet as he is with his hands. Henrik Dalsgaard, Christian Norgaard and Mathias Jensen are among the great Danes so crucial to the west London outfit’s success. Josh Da Silva is almost the complete midfielder and his Premier League chance will surely come next season, be it with Brentford or elsewhere.
It’s relatively well known that this squad has been moulded together using the famous ‘Moneyball’ technique, where statistics and characteristics are vital. Players (and coaches) are strategically picked, helping to build a winning team that plays football the right way. And they believe they can beat anyone. Including Spurs.
For Jose Mourinho, the EFL Cup is huge. This was the first competition he won when moving to England, going on to win it three times with Chelsea. He also won it in 2017 with Manchester United. One more and he’ll move clear of legendary duo Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson, becoming the first manager to win the competition five times, and the first to win it with three different clubs.
It’s also huge for Spurs – a club who have not lifted a major trophy since winning this competition in 2008. Mauricio Pochettino built a strong side during his reign, but Mourinho was brought in to win things. This is his best chance yet.
Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min have been outstanding this term, but The Special One might still look to his fringe players to get the job done. Carlos Vinicius has found the net in the Europa League and might be worth a shout at 18/5 with Grosvenor Sport to break the deadlock at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
They should get their shot in the EFL Cup Final at Wembley in April… but Brentford won’t make it easy.
The Manchester derby
Manchester United versus Manchester City. Yes, please. A repeat of last month’s meeting? No, thanks.
The goalless draw at Old Trafford in December wasn’t much fun, but these two teams are really rolling and a semi-final has to be won – so hopefully all caution is thrown to the wind in this rematch at the Theatre of Dreams.
Including that draw, Man Utd have won eight and drawn two of their last 10 Premier League games. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was under pressure at the start of November. Now they’re second and on the tails of fierce rivals, Liverpool.
Man City have climbed the table too, with five wins in seven, shipping just two goals in the process. And they were simply scintillating against Chelsea at the weekend, racing into a 3-0 first-half lead.
For the hosts, Bruno Fernandes is key. His Premier League form reads 19 goals and 14 assists from 30 games – a quite sensational start to life in England. With a supporting cast of Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and everyone’s favourite man Marcus Rashford, it’s about time that the Red Devils started firing.
One thing to note is the fight in Solskjaer’s team. They’ve made a habit of winning after falling behind this season, and who can forget the Pogba-inspired comeback at the Etihad back in 2018?
You can back Man Utd to win after going behind at 13/1 with Grosvenor Sport. Or take it up a notch and go for City to lead at half-time and United to win at full-time… that’s a tasty 29/1.
Like Mourinho, Pep Guardiola loves this competition. He’s already sealed a Carabao Cup hat-trick and now stands on the brink of history. No manager has won this competition four times in a row – can the Spaniard be the first?
Pep’s teams are renowned for their fluidity and flowing football, but the penny seems to have dropped that a good defence helps too. It’s taken a fair bit of cash to get there, but the £60M signing of Ruben Dias looks inspired – and the Citizens’ faithful are already throwing Virgin van Dijk comparisons out there.
We’ll see about that, but a solid City spine behind the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling is straight up scary. This one is just impossible to call.
But we do know one thing for sure, we’re in for two nights of fantastic EFL Cup football.
So sit back and enjoy.
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