It’s cup football all the way this week and we’re kicking off with two mouth-watering ties in the Capital One Cup. Liverpool, fresh from a 5-4 thriller at Norwich, return to Anfield to try and complete the job against Stoke after taking the first leg 1-0 at the Britannia. That game takes place on Tuesday night, with Manchester City’s clash with Everton at the Etihad Stadium to follow on Wednesday. That one is evenly poised with the Toffees holding a slender 2-1 advantage after a rare win at Goodison Park.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have shown excellent character recently in Premier League games, as well as their manager’s love of attacking and free-flowing football. After racing into a two-goal lead at home to Arsenal a couple of weeks ago, they conspired to go 3-2 down before snatching an equalizer at the death. The 5-4 at Norwich was even more remarkable with both teams scoring injury-time goals in a game which swung one way then the other throughout. The first leg at Stoke saw them come away with a creditable 1-0 victory from Jordan Ibe’s strike, and they’re just 90 minutes away from a Wembley appearance in the German’s first season in charge.
City meanwhile have been pretty poor on their travels this season, but remain a force to be reckoned with in the blue half of Manchester, and Everton’s questionable defence will surely have it all to do to keep Aguero and Co. quiet. The Citizens are competing on all fronts in the remainder of the season, and Manuel Pellgrini will surely hope to land at least one trophy before – as reports claim – he makes way for the incoming Pep Guardiola.
Liverpool v Stoke
Mark Hughes’ Stoke side are doing what most expected of them this season, namely holding their position in mid-table and having a decent crack at the cup competitions. He will have been bitterly disappointed not to at least get a draw from the first leg, and it puts them in a position where they will have to be adventurous at some point during the 90 minutes, if not from the start. They went through a bit of a purple patch throughout December when the return of Ryan Shawcross at the back helped them secure a string of clean sheets, but it hasn’t been quite so rosy in January with away league defeats at West Brom and Leicester. While the football may have improved since Sparky replaced Tony Pulis, the usual dour defensive abilities associated with Stoke are not so prevalent any more.
Liverpool have been far from tight at the back either this season, with their tendency to concede from corners something that will not have escaped the attention of the Stoke backroom staff. However, as you’d expect from a Jurgen Klopp side, they’ve been prolific in front of goal lately. Firminho has found his confidence under the new man and followed up his double against Arsenal with another brace against Norwich. The Reds showed incredible resilience to come from 3-1 down to lead 4-3 at Carrow Road, only to be pegged back by Bassong’s late goal for the Canaries. The game looked certain to be heading for a draw, but Adam Lallana popped up in the 95th minute to volley Liverpool into dreamland and a 5-4 win.
These two may tend to have low-scoring games in general, but they have played out 5-3 and 6-1 scorelines in recent seasons, and with Stoke having to chase the game, this one is set up for goals.
Manchester City v Everton
Manchester City’s troubles on the road have been well documented this season, but they’ve won 9 of 11 at home and make plenty of appeal at -189 with William Hill, Betfred and Totesport to beat Everton on Wednesday night.
This will be the third meeting between the sides in the last month, and it was Everton who were one of the two sides to prevent City claiming all three points at home when they visited two weeks ago. However, anyone who watched the game would admit that Tim Howard had one of his best games of the season, and the Everton goal led something of a charmed life. That was only the Toffees third clean sheet in 11 games, and it would be a shock if they were able to keep the Citizens out for another 90 minutes. That might be exactly what they try to do as they look to hold on the the 2-1 lead that they claimed in the first leg, but their defensive frailties were all on show during the 2-1 home defeat to Swansea at the weekend.
Crucially for City, Sergio Aguero looks to be back to his best and the diminutive Argentine has bagged five goals in his last four games, including a pair in each of the last two against Palace and West Ham. With the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup all on the horizon for Manuel Pellegrini, he would dearly love to secure a first Wembley final early on to settle the nerves and release the pressure going into the last few months of the season, and we can expect City to attack from the off. With the likes of Sterling, Silva, and De Bruyne they have an embarrassment of riches going forward and they will test the Everton defence to the fullest.
The more adventurous among you might look to back Manchester City -1 at around +130 but we’ll stick with the straight win at a lesser price on the basis that should have too much for an Everton side that look weak at the back. The home side could hardly be described as solid either, with the absence of Vincent Kompany proving to be highly problematic, so this could turn into a game of who can score the most, and there should be only one winner in that scenario.
Liverpool v Stoke Over 2.5 goals
Tuesday 26th January 19:45 GMT
Manchester City to beat Everton
Wednesday 27th January 19:45 GMT
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