Ranking the last eight on how badly they should want to win the Carabao…
We’re down to the last eight in the Carabao Cup. Here are the quarter-finalists ranked in order of how desperate they should be to win it…
Jurgen Klopp finds himself in a similar predicament to Thomas Tuchel. He said after his depleted team were held by Tottenham that the quarter-final against Leicester marks the start of an “impossible” run. With further ground lost to City at the weekend, his focus is on regaining it. And cobbling together a team.
With a Leeds side to face that is no less relentless – even if they pose a diminished threat – on Boxing Day and a more crucial trip to Leicester than Wednesday’s quarter-final ahead of a visit to Chelsea on January 2, the next game is the least crucial in Klopp’s eyes.
Get through this, and a one-legged semi – the venue of which Klopp can’t even pretend to care about – then maybe the Reds will show the Carabao some love. Until that point, it’s little more than an interference.
The quarter-final against Brentford is the least of Tuchel’s problems right now. First, the Chelsea boss has to park his fury at the Premier League for refusing to postpone the visit to Wolves, where they lost further ground in the title race. Then his focus seems to be on getting the short trip to Brentford postponed while Covid ravages his squad.
Tuchel’s ambivalence towards Wednesday’s tie is down to his priorities. Chelsea have bigger things to worry about right now – even if you can put Covid aside – than the trophy only Liverpool and Manchester City have won more often.
Of course, another pot would be splendid. But Tuchel won’t go out of his way to pocket a Carabao medal. He might not even go to Brentford.
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As the only EFL side left in a field with four of the Premier League’s top five, very little is expected of Sunderland. Very little is ever expected of Sunderland these days.
And the Black Cats have far bigger concerns over getting out of the seemingly inescapable League One. But they will take 5,000 Mackems to north London, with Lee Johnson and his players presumably glad to focus on something different, more glamorous, than the daily grind.
Will they win it? Almost certainly not, and even for them, it’s a distraction. But they could cause Arsenal a problem if Mikel Arteta borks his rotation.
Arsenal are the only side left of the five clubs we said should be taking the Carabao Cup seriously back in September. Our reasoning: they have no European campaign to prioritise and, at the time, their form didn’t look like getting them back towards Europe any time soon.
A lot has changed at Arsenal since then. Arteta was on the verge of losing his job but a stellar run of form has propelled the Gunners into the top four with a four-point cushion. Maintaining that position is their absolute priority.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t target a run at the Carabao Cup, especially now they have got this far, scoring 11 goals and conceding none in three games against West Brom, Wimbledon and Leeds. With a League One side at home in the quarter-finals, a semi-final place is expected, after which Arteta can wheel out the big guns for the semis and possibly final.
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Leicester are getting players back out of isolation after their last two games were called off. They should be fresher and stronger in number than whichever squad Klopp cobbles together on Wednesday.
And Rodgers can’t be too choosy at the moment over which competitions he fancies most. Leicester’s Premier League form has been woefully inconsistent this term, leaving them in ninth place but only three points above 14th. Beating Liverpool this week and eventually securing a first League Cup triumph in 22 years could provide a platform for Leicester to break their habit under Rodgers of blowing up down the home straight.
Thomas Frank didn’t want the Bees’ quarter-final against Chelsea to go ahead, and Tuchel almost certainly agrees – the Blues boss hinted that Chelsea might not turn up if their Covid concerns deepen.
But beyond the immediate fears for the wellbeing of his players, the Carabao Cup represents a fantastic opportunity for Brentford to set another new benchmark, especially while they sit snug in the Premier League, a safe distance from the drop zone.
The Bees reached the semi-final last season, losing to Tottenham, who then lost to City in the final. Going one better, reaching their first domestic cup final and ideally winning it, would help grow the club’s profile beyond the achievements they have already made.
First, though, Frank needs to cobble a team together. As of last Thursday, there were 13 confirmed positives within the camp.
2) West Ham
David Moyes has already overachieved at West Ham. If he ends their 42-year-long trophy drought at Wembley in February, he might be in with a shout of a statue.
The Hammers have never won the League Cup and adding the Carabao to their list of honours would also ensure European football at the London Stadium in consecutive years, even if Moyes has bigger plans than the Europa Conference League next season.
More than what it means for next season, the prospect of a domestic final, their first since 2006, and a trophy in its own right should be all the motivation the Hammers need, especially with a London derby in the quarter-finals.
Not sure if you’ve heard, but it’s been 427 years since Spurs last won a trophy. So they can’t be too picky about what pots they would prefer to lift.
We know they won’t be getting their hands on the Europa Conference League after they forfeited the Rennes meeting but that break and four recently postponed matches left them somewhat rejuvenated when Liverpool limped into north London.
Antonio Conte would dearly love some silverware to end the trophy-less ticker at 5115 days while offering tangible proof of his genius. Many of these Tottenham players went close last year, when they were beaten by City in the final. For them as much as Conte, the Carabao Cup has to be a priority for Spurs, if only to offer a belated rebuke to the bottlers tag.