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We might be about to embark upon the busy festive period, but there’ll be no let up in the new year with the FA Cup third round and the Capital One Cup semi finals at the start of January. Four Premier League teams are competing over two legs in early January, with the prize a trip to Wembley for the first piece of silverware on offer this season.
Liverpool and Manchester City might have hoped to avoid each other at this stage, but that would be to underestimate Stoke and Everton who will feel that they can be more than competitive in their respective ties. The first legs on Tuesday 5th of January see the Potters host Liverpool and the Toffees host Man City, and both make plenty of appeal to get a foothold in the tie on home ground.
Stoke v Liverpool
Stoke have made great strides under Mark Hughes over the last couple of seasons, and they’ve gone from perennial survivors to a team that people are starting to take notice of. The next big challenge is to secure a trophy and/or regular European football, but there are at least 10 other Premier League clubs with similar ambitions. However, Stoke’s run in this competition has put them within touching distance of a Wembley final, and they need not be overawed by Liverpool.
The 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday might have seemed the predictable result in the previous round, but the Owls had already dumped Newcastle and Arsenal out of the competition, so it was a potential upset that Stoke did well to survive. They’d already beaten Chelsea 2-1 in an earlier round and there’s no doubt that they are taking this cup very seriously. Stoke are a formidable side at the Britannia, and Liverpool don’t need to win as they know they have the second leg at Anfield to fall back on.
The Reds are hardly in perfect form anyway, with Jurgen Klopp taking time to adjust to his home. Brilliant displays like the 6-1 drubbing of Southampton in the quarter final of this competition, have been contrasted by league defeats at Newcastle and Watford. The charismatic coach will see this as an ideal opportunity to get the first trophy under the belt though, and Liverpool certainly have a better chance over two legs than they would if this were a one-off game. A draw would be a perfectly acceptable result for Klopp with the second leg to come, and we don’t expect to see Liverpool busting a gut to win this one over 90 minutes.
Everton v Manchester City
You could make a similar case for Everton when they host Manchester City in the first leg of their tie, and we’re going to do just that by backing them to get at least a draw to take to the Etihad with them for the second leg.
The Citizens have lost their last three away games at the time of writing – to Arsenal, Juventus and Stoke – and their Premier League away form has them in 12th position in the ‘away’ league table. Much of that has been due to the absence of Vincent Kompany, and City look a completely different team when he doesn’t play. He’s due back over Christmas and his first task will be to shore up the leaky defence. He may not be risked for this game even if he is fit though, with an FA Cup tie at Norwich the following Saturday and Premier League games coming thick and fast. Much like Liverpool up at Stoke, City would be more than happy to get away from Merseyside without too much fuss, knowing they can try to turn it around back at home in the next leg. We’ve backed the Citizens to win the Cup outright, and there’s no reason to worry about that bet, but it’s not so easy to see them winning over 90 minutes at Goodison.
Everton on the other hand, will know that their best chance of getting through is by taking a commanding lead here, and they will take the game to Man City from the off. Roberto Martinez has seen his side slowly improve this season and they’ve crept into the top half of the table. Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku are proving to be a major handful for everyone the Toffees play, and they’re are ably backed up by a dynamic attacking team. Deulofeu has proved to be a revelation in terms of build-up play and assists, while Leyton Baines has made a welcome return from injury.
Manchester City have had a better record at Goodison of late, achieving victories here in 2014 and 2015, but overall they’ve only won three times at Everton in the last fifteen attempts, and we wouldn’t want to back them to win here when they don’t absolutely have to. The Toffees will throw the kitchen sink at City, and while Manuel Pellegrini will plan to win the game, it might be more a case of battening down the hatches and waiting for the second leg to do the damage.
It would be folly at this stage to suggest that either side can win their respective ties overall, but both Stoke and Everton are decent value to take something out of the first leg to give themselves something to fight for in the second.
Stoke or Draw
Tuesday 5th January, 19:45 GMT
Everton or Draw
Tuesday 5th January, 19:45 GMT
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