The EFL Cup takes centre stage in English football during this week as the first legs of the semi-finals get underway. Southampton host Liverpool in Wednesday’s game, but first up it’s Manchester United at home to Hull City on Tuesday night.
Mourinho’s Red Devils have found the winning thread in recent times – the facile 4-0 win over Reading in the FA Cup at the weekend was their eighth victory in a row in all competitions. In fact, you have to go as far back as the 3rd of November for the last time United lost, in a 2-1 Europa League defeat at Fenerbache. Ibrahimovic and Pogba watched from the bench as their teammates cruised past Reading, and only Carrick and Rojo survived from the team that started the previous fixture at West Ham in the Premier League. That means the Manchester club can go into this game in great form and with fresh legs as they look to put one foot in the final.
It’s a very different story for Hull City, who dispensed with the services of former United stalwart Mike Phelan last week. New manager Marco Silva enjoyed a debut win as he watched his side beat Swansea 2-0, but the size of his task at the club cannot be overestimated. The Tigers are rock-bottom of the Premier League, and that FA Cup win was their first since November and their first clean sheet in 23 games. It may well have come at a cost too, as key defender and captain Michael Dawson was forced to leave the field in the second half. With injuries to defenders Davies and Maguire and Elmohamady on international duty, the Tigers are extremely light at the back.
United’s Winning Streak
We tipped United to win the EFL Cup back at the start of the season, and that bet looks sound going into this week’s games. Mourinho may have stuttered a little bit at the start of his Old Trafford career, but he has quickly built a winning mentality and appears to have found the right combinations. Those 8 victories may not read incredibly well in terms of opposition – Spurs are the only top six side in that run – but wins breed confidence and there is a certain swagger about United’s play, led of course by their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The fact that Wayne Rooney -who equalled Bobby Charlton’s United goalscoring record at the weekend – isn’t guaranteed a place in the starting line up says plenty about the depth of United’s squad. Martial was on target twice in the last round of this competition, while Rashford enhanced his reputation with a brace against Reading. Lingard and Mkhitaryan will also be chomping at the bit to get involved after missing out on Sunday.
It’s seven wins and three draws from the last ten at Old Trafford, with five clean sheets in the process. Each of the last five at the Theatre of Dreams have been victories, and it’s very hard to look past a comfortable win.
Can Hull Stop the Rot?
Hull City earned promotion via the play offs under Steve Bruce last season, bouncing back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. However, the experienced manager left the club over the summer citing a breakdown in his relationship with the owners. The fans are still at loggerheads with the hierarchy, and stayed away in their masses in protest on Saturday. Just 6,608 people witnessed the win over the Swans in the FA Cup, and a season in the Premier League is being overshadowed by ongoing issues.
One of the reasons Bruce walked away from the club was recruitment, and it was quite farcical that Hull approached the season with just 13 fit outfield players. Remarkably they got off to a flyer, but the points have severely dried up with just one league win since August. the EFL Cup has been a welcome distraction in that respect, with away wins at Exeter, Stoke and Bristol City taking them to a quarter final against Newcastle. The Tigers eventually beat the Magpies on penalties, despite playing extra-time with ten men.
Marco Silva will have been delighted by his team’s weekend win – particularly as he ended up with three midfielders in the back four as Huddlestone moved back to join Meyler and Livermore after Dawson’s injury. The return of Abel Hernandez is also a big boost for the coming weeks – the striker has been out since November, but netted within minutes of coming off the bench against the Swans to put his team ahead. However, his impact may well be reserved for the league, and Silva will be judged on Hull’s final position rather than the outcome of this two-legged tie.
Hull are struggling with injuries at the back, and a trip to Man United is daunting at the best of times. The bookmakers are taking no chances by listing the Red Devils at around -500 to win in 90 minutes, so a look at other markets is in order.
United are -137 with Bet365, BetVictor and Paddy Power to win to nil, and it’s a fair bet in the circumstances. Hull’s goal in the 3-1 defeat at West Brom was their first on the road in six matches – all six of which were defeats. It’s also worth bearing in mind that this is just the first leg, so if Hull can escape with a narrow loss it will keep the tie alive for the home leg. With that in mind, Hull’s attacking intent is likely to be at a minimum.
Another bet at slightly larger odds of +135 with 888Sport and Unibet is Manchester United to win both halves. The Red Devils are rated just -149 to land the HT/FT result, but if they are ahead at the 45 it’s easy to see them adding to the tally in the second half.
Manchester United to beat Hull to Nil
Tuesday 10th January, 20:00 GMT
Manchester United to Win Both Halves
Tuesday 10th January, 20:00 GMT