Carabao Cup preview: Any chance of an upset in Manchester derby?
The second leg of the Carabao Cup semifinals take place this week, with Aston Villa booking their spot in the final after beating Leicester City on Tuesday. Defending champions Manchester City take on Manchester United on Wednesday (stream matches on ESPN+). Here's what to look for in the Manchester derby:
MANCHESTER CITY vs. MANCHESTER UNITED (Jan. 29, 7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN+)
Ah, but is it a foregone conclusion? Will we get a contest at the Etihad on Wednesday evening? Perhaps we will. After all, United won their last game 6-0, whereas City could only win 4-0. Advantage United, right?
Some straw-clutching, perhaps, but it isn't entirely unreasonable to think that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men could pull off something unlikely. For a start, it's only 3-1: the extent to which City were superior in the first half of the first leg perhaps clouds our memories on this a little. They were rampant and, perhaps a little like Leicester, they might be disappointed they didn't kill the tie off completely. It was 3-0 at the break but it could easily have been double that, and United will have been delighted that they eventually escaped with only a two-goal deficit.
So for the sake of those of us who would like to see a competitive night in Manchester, here are a few reasons to think that United could at the very least make a game of it: United have already won at City once this season, that game at the start of December when they counter-attacked perfectly and were 2-0 up over a punchdrunk City at the break; this is more important to United, their chances of winning the EFL Cup having a greater bearing on the success or otherwise of their season than it will City's; the City defence is far from impregnable, its vulnerabilities exposed by such attacking titans as Crystal Palace and Port Vale in recent weeks.
That's before you consider some slightly more ephemeral considerations, like Pep Guardiola's occasional tendency to overthink things in big games, and complicate their side when it should really be simple. Who knows what he is cooking up inside his head, when in reality he could just put a reasonably strong team out there and tell them to play.
Then there's the odd habit this United team have of occasionally looking superb, in among the masses of mediocrity and incompetence: there's that win at the Etihad back in December, for example, or beating Tottenham at home a few days earlier, or even still being the only team to take any points off Liverpool this season.
Despite all of this, logic suggests that City will do the necessary and seal their place at Wembley. They should be far too strong for United, even if the red side of Manchester performs to their capacity. But there remains just enough to suggest that the unlikely is not the impossible.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-1 Manchester United (5-2 on aggregate).