Football fans breathed a collective sigh of relief after hearing elite sport would continue during the UK’s third lockdown – and two Carabao Cup semi-finals are the perfect tonic for the chaos around the pandemic.
Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham will take on plucky Championship outfit Brentford on Tuesday night to kick off an exciting two nights of action, with a Manchester derby to feast your eyes on at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
Spurs have not won a trophy for nearly 13 years and Mourinho will be well aware the pressure is on his shoulders to end their drought and add to his vast trophy haul. While their opponents are a division apart, the Bees have enough quality to cause a seismic shock. Mourinho recently described them as a top flight side.
Pep Guardiola knows how to win this trophy having won it for the last three years in a row – but he’ll come up against a United side who are joint-top of the league with a game in hand after some terrific domestic form. City themselves come into this having beaten Chelsea 3-1 as they continue their climb up the standings.
Sportsmail runs you through the biggest things to look out for as the Carabao Cup returns to our screens this week.
Man City are bidding to win the Carabao Cup for a fourth time in a row ahead of their semi-final clash against rivals Manchester United
EXPECT JOSE TO GO STRONG
Mourinho admitted this game was the biggest of his time at Spurs so far, with his side just two wins away from the trophy they both crave so dearly.
This competition was the last piece of silverware Tottenham got their hands on way back in 2008. It’s a trophy they’ve won four times in their history but fans were left frustrated to see former boss Mauricio Pochettino play a second string consistently during his five and a half years in charge.
His failure to take it seriously saw them dumped out on penalties against League Two Colchester United in the third round last season. Mourinho will have no doubt that Brentford, currently battling for promotion in the Championship this season, cannot be underestimated.
Jose Mourinho should play a strong team as he bids to guide Spurs to a long-awaited trophy
In-form duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min could start against Brentford in the semi-final
Throughout this tournament he has made it clear that he values it highly. In the last round at Stoke, he named a strong team including captain Hugo Lloris, Eric Dier, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in midfield and Harry Kane up front. Expect him to name an even stronger team here.
With their next game coming on Sunday in the FA Cup against FC Marine – a team in the eighth tier of English football – he can afford to go for the kill and play some of his fringe players against the Merseyside outfit.
‘My biggest game at Spurs? Yes, I think so,’ Mourinho said ahead of the game. ‘In the perspective of the club chasing silverware for many years, I would say so. Of course we always have important matches — last season we had a match at Crystal Palace that would give us participation in this season’s Europa League or not.
Mourinho called this clash the biggest of his Spurs tenure and will be taking it seriously
‘The match against Leeds on Saturday was also very important as we went a few games without a victory in the Premier League but I would say a semi-final is always a very important match. The only one more important is a final.’
Brentford will have their hands full if they’re charged with keeping dynamic duo Kane and Son Heung Min quiet at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but it will only heap pressure on the north Londoners – with the visitors able to play with freedom and enjoy their underdogs tag.
DANGEROUS BEES CAN STING SPURS
Brentford, who have been flirting with Premier League promotion for a few seasons now, look strong contenders to do this term after the agony of their play-off defeat last year. They’re currently six points off league leaders Norwich and find themselves fourth, with 41 points from 22 games.
Thomas Frank has put together a talented side that is still thriving even after losing key players Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma. The Bees have shown they are no pushovers in this competition – dumping out four top flight sides already.
They edged to victory over Newcastle in the last round and weren’t even at full strength. They also thumped Fulham 3-0, knocked out West Brom on penalties and came away with a 2-0 win at Southampton.
Brentford, led by star striker Ivan Toney (right) are gunning for promotion this season
Thomas Frank’s side have bounced back from their play-off final defeat and have dumped out four Premier League teams in the Carabao Cup this season
Impressive, but of course none of the challenges they have overcome are quite as daunting as this – especially with the stakes so high and Tottenham so hungry to end their painful lack of silverware.
Just like they did after losing Neal Maupay to Brighton, the Bees have evolved once more by bringing in Ivan Toney from Peterborough – and it looks like they’ve struck gold once again.
The English forward is leading their charge for promotion by netting 16 times in the Championship and forms a dangerous front line alongside Sergi Canos and Bryan Mbeumo – who attracted plenty of Premier League interest himself last summer.
EX-GUNNER JOSH DASILVA HOPING FOR CUPSET
The midfielder knows what it means to get one over Tottenham having spent most of his youth career with Arsenal – coming up against his rivals a number of times.
Dasilva joined the Gunners aged eight and spent nearly a decade in the academy before leaving the Emirates in 2018. He featured just three times for Arsenal – all coming in this competition – before heading to Brentford in search of regular action.
He’s come of age since making the switch. Last season was his most efficient yet as he netted 10 goals in 47 appearance to boost their hopes for promotion, starting the play-off final loss to Fulham.
The 22-year-old scored the only goal to ensure Brentford progressed against Newcastle and is now looking forward to locking horns with Spurs after some great memories of derbies will turning out for the Arsenal youth teams.
Bees midfielder Josh Dasilva will be hoping to get one over Tottenham after playing for Arsenal
‘Obviously when I was younger I played against [them] and there’s a friendly rivalry so I will enjoy playing them again. Playing Tottenham at their stadium will always be a good experience,’ he said this week.
‘There’s a few stories from back in the day when we were younger. We used to have little social media stuff going on between us. At the time, it’s just that rivalry, you know what it meant, when you watch the first team you knew what it meant to them and the fans.
‘It wasn’t even Twitter, it was Blackberry messenger and that sort of stuff! I’m talking years ago, U12s and U13s. Just sending each other messages and stuff and then when we played those games they were physical.’
The 22-year-old spent a decade with the Gunners and understands their rivalry with Spurs
CAN UNITED END SEMI-FINAL JINX?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had to deal with immense pressure this season but after inspiring his side to the top of the Premier League, he’ll be able to sleep a little easier – and now the Norwegian will have a first trophy in his sights.
United were drawn the short straw after being pitted against bitter rivals Manchester City, and will have their work cut out trying to stop Guardiola’s men winning the trophy a fourth time.
Solskjaer can be happy with what he achieved last season – getting the team into the Champions League after a slow start – but the 2019-20 campaign also saw United exit the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Europa League at the semi-final stage.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has galvanised United and led them to the top of the Premier league
The Red Devils hoping to avoid de-ja vu after being dumped out of the semis by City in 2020
Their last trophy disappointment came in the Europa League August as Sevilla won 2-1 before going on to lift the cup against Inter Milan. The month before they had lost 3-1 to Chelsea at Wembley thanks to a error-strewn display from David De Gea.
They were dumped out of last year’s Carabao Cup by City – losing 3-1 in the first leg at Old Trafford before going out on aggregate after a 1-0 win at the Etihad – and Solskjaer will be desperate to avoid deja-vu.
This time they will only play one leg against City, and Solskjaer said there will be ‘no excuses’ for failure as they take City on after four wins in their last five games.
Solskjaer insists there will be ‘no excuses’ as United come into this derby in top form
‘We’ve developed a lot in the last 12 months since the last semi in the Carabao Cup. It’s not just learning to win semis, we’ve also earned the right to feel we can go all the way with our performances.
‘We’re confident and going into the game in good form – there are no excuses. You play football to win and to get your hands on trophies. It gives you the hunger to get more.’
Solskjaer oversaw United’s worst start to a season in 30 years this term and faced calls to be sacked, but after galvanising his players and bringing the team into the title race, a trophy would give him a seal of approval among supporters.
CITY LOOKING LIKE THEIR OLD SELVES
It seems even a Covid outbreak and a striker crisis can’t derail the Manchester City express train right now.
Playing with no recognised forward on Sunday, Guardiola masterminded a superb 3-1 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge thanks to goals from Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden.
Sergio Aguero – who came off the bench during the victory – has suffered with niggling injuries this season. He’s played just eight times and is yet to score, but could see his opportunity come in this derby against United.
Guardiola has not had the Argentine or Gabriel Jesus in his starting XI for the last two games, with the Brazilian recently resting positive for coronavirus, but he has managed to find a winning formula even after being forced to rotate his side.
City brushed aside a Covid as they beat Chelsea 3-1 without a number of first team personnel
Sergio Aguero has stuggled to stay fit this season, but City showed they can thrive without him
Goalkeeper Ederson, forced to self-isolate after City’s Covid scare, missed the win over Chelsea, and Zack Steffen stepped up to keep a clean sheet on his debut.
He was without five players for the trip to west London because of positive tests, including defenders Kyle Walker and Eric Garcia, while Benjamin Mendy was left on the bench after getting in hot water for hosting a New Years’ Eve party.
City endured a poor start to the season, much like their opponents United – but now look like the team we used to marvel at and have done well to avoid recent distractions and maintain their run in the league.
They are unbeaten since a 2-0 loss to Spurs in November, conceding just twice during that time. They’re now four points off Liverpool with two games in hand, but must now take that momentum into a competition they love to win.