I am old enough to remember when the League Cup was called the League Cup. Of course it’s now called the EFL Cup or is currently known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons. For the first 20 years or so there was no sponsor but since then there has been a succession of them, Rumbelows, Coca Cola etc. Back in the early days teams used to put out their strongest sides, but in recent times it has been considered the least important of the trophies on offer, and managers make wholesale changes, even in the latter stages of the competition.
On Wednesday night Guardiola made nine changes from the side that started their last game, but he was still able to field ten full internationals plus Cole Palmer, a top prospect who has already featured and scored in the Champions League and as an under 21 international, such is the quality of the strength in depth of the Manchester City squad.
Not to be outdone David Moyes made eight changes himself which is an indicator of how far West Ham have come in the last year or so. The game itself was described by some as one of the best 0-0 draws they had seen. It says something when perhaps our two most influential players, Declan Rice and Michail Antonio were rested completely and not even on the bench. I loved a tweet from Rodney Marsh before the game that would have come back to haunt him. It was along the lines of ‘No Rice, No Antonio, No Chance’.
It was no surprise that City had the greater possession and shots etc., but we gave them a good game and defended relatively comfortably to deny them a goal. We had our chances too, but when the game ended at 0-0 I feared the worst, knowing that City had not lost a penalty shootout for 13 years, which was seven successful ones in that time.
But our penalties were superb, Foden dragged his one wide, and as a result we progressed to the quarter-finals. One thing that came out of the penalties for me was that Aaron Cresswell, who I have long advocated should be high on our list of potential penalty takers, should definitely be on the shortlist, as should Craig Dawson if he is on the pitch.
23 different teams have won the League Cup but we are not one of them. We’ve been in the final twice, in 1966 (the last season that the final was a two-legged affair) and 1981, but runners-up is the best we’ve managed, although we were unlucky in 1981 in particular, when as a second-tier side we took Liverpool to a replay. Will this be our year?
It’s back to Premier League action this weekend when we visit Villa Park. Villa, who cashed in on Grealish in the summer, have made a disappointing start to this campaign and currently sit in 13th place, having lost their last three games. On the other hand we have remained undefeated in our last seven Premier League away games (3 at the end of last season and 4 to begin this one). When did that last happen? I doubt that it ever has in the Premier League. I looked back to our record breaking season of 1985-86 (my go-to when looking at records) and found a run of nine unbeaten away league games in succession which stretched from a defeat at Old Trafford on August 26 to a loss at White Hart Lane on December 26. Let’s hope that we can stretch our current unbeaten away run to eight this weekend.
Thinking back to the City game in midweek, the whole team defended as a unit to keep our opponents from scoring but particular credit must go to the keeper, Areola (arguably man of the match) and the back four of Johnson, Diop, Dawson and Cresswell, who all had excellent games. Ironically, after such good performances, perhaps only one of the five aforementioned players (Cresswell) may be in the starting line-up against Villa. I fully expect Fabianski, the fit-again Coufal, Zouma and Ogbonna to resume their places in the eleven chosen to start the game. That’s yet another testament to the strength of the squad being put together by the manager.
Last season (in February) we won 3-1 in the corresponding fixture with a couple of goals from Lingard. Surely he must be frustrated to get so little game time in the Manchester United team that has performed so poorly of late? I wonder if he will be one of the players that we target in the upcoming transfer window? It would be great to think that our owners wanted to splash out to strengthen our strong squad still further. But will the new Head of Recruitment be allowed to do so? Once again we are favourites with the bookmakers to win the game. A repeat of last season with West Ham winning the game 3-1 is priced at around 20/1. What are the chances?