The EFL Cup is the hardest competition to weigh up in terms of match fixtures – it is the last priority for many teams – but the formula to finding the winners has been much the same as the FA Cup. Only Swansea and Birmingham have recently won the trophy from outside the Big Six and the sheer strength in depth of the Premier League’s elite ought to prove too strong over the course of the season once again.
Picking from that exalted few is more difficult, but Manchester United make appeal. Jose Mourinho may get a lot of negative attention through the season, but he is a serial winner who took the title two years ago (along with the FA Cup) and his United side were runners-up in the FA Cup last season to boot.
This is the first serious chance for Silverware this season and one that he’s not likely to pass up given the pressure from the stands now and his squad is well equipped to do so. Eric Bailly, Juan Mata, Antony Martial, Andreas Pereira, Ashley Young, Sergio Romero and Scott McTominay started on the bench for their 1-1 draw with Wolves at the weekend and last season Martial and Rashford started in a fourth round 2-0 win against Swansea. Victor Lindelöf and Chris Smalling, were centre backs that day which is a better centre backs combination than most in the country can field before we get to the changes and the fact they’re at home makes their tricky tie against Derby less dangerous.
Chelsea and Liverpool’s clash tomorrow opens the field up quite significantly, but both probably have eyes set on European ambitions should they make it through and Manchester City also have eyes only on the Champions League. The fact they look set to face more competition for the Premier League as well will keep their minds very much on task, and whilst they have a wonderful squad, it’s impossible to see them committing fully.
Tottenham have the profile of being ideal contenders for this. More winnable than the Premier League or Champions League for them, they were semi-finalists in the FA Cup last year and played a strong team before going down from 2-0 up against West Ham in the early stages last season when a strong side that included Kieran Trippier, Toby Alderweireld, Ben Davies, Danny Rose, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, and Son Heung-min.
The 2008 League Cup triumph remains the last time Tottenham lifted a major trophy so surely it would make sense for Mauricio Pochettino to target a run in the competition even in a strong Champions League group. It will be tough to bypass Watford with their game being played at MK Dons, but if they progress the draw is kind they make more appeal.
Arsenal have won trophies much more recently although the Europa League, with a group that very much looks winnable, will surely be one for Emery – a multiple winner of the competition – to target with the potential of a route back into the Champions League at the end of the season.
Outside of those established teams Wolves will have caught the eye of many outside the big seven. Draws with both Manchester sides in the league were entirely deserved and there’s a strong squad for Nuno Santo Espirito to spread around, whilst his club are good enough to stay well within the top half and consider a cup run to boot.
Fulham have already played a game in the completion, beating Exeter 2-0 in the previous round, and whilst they have only five points so far, they’re better than their position shows and if they can get past Milwall on their travels tonight then 66/1 in a place would look big for a side that ought not to be down towards the lower half of the table.
2 pts each/way Manchester United (7/1 Betfred, 6/1 general)
1 pt each/way Tottenham (9/1 Paddy Power)
1 pt each/way Wolves (33/1 general)
1 pt each/way Fulham (66/1 general)