If things go according to how many perceive they might this week, then we are set for a fascinating EFL Cup final at the end of February. Two teams with different histories but similar trajectories might face off for a uniquely cherished domestic cup title.
Still, there is plenty to play for in this semi-final second leg, with the likelihood of upsets and drama. Southampton might have lost at home to a Joelinton goal, but they are firmly in the tie
Nottingham Forest, on the other hand, have the tougher task of overturning a 3-goal deficit against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Their chances are slim, but with nothing to lose, Steve Cooper’s men will expectedly give it a go.
Newcastle vs Southampton
Eddie Howe knows exactly what his team has to do to reach the final: avoid a defeat against Southampton and secure a spot at Wembley.
Yet, the English manager must be a tad worried about his side’s recent profligacy in front of goal. Indeed, in the first leg, Joelinton missed an absolute sitter before scoring the winner. Even worse, Callum Willson has now failed to score in nine consecutive matches.
Similarly, the goals seem to have dried up for Miguel Almiron, who had gone on a run of goals before the World Cup break.
On the flip side, the defence has been nearly impenetrable. The Magpies have kept eight consecutive clean sheets at St. James’ Park. If they manage one tonight, they are through to the final.
Newcastle will be very patient in this tie, in the hope that, at some point, their opponents will commit numbers in attack, leaving them vulnerable. And with the guile and vision of Bruno Guimaraes and the pace of Almiron and Willock, the hosts can kill off the game.
Nathan Jones will likely avoid any form of desperation, at least for the first hour. A goal of any kind will see them back in the game.
James Ward-Prowse will have plenty to say if the Saints are to overturn this tie. Sékou Mara will also need to be clinical. His trickery and pace will help in creating spaces, but he must be ruthless with his chances.
Southampton are not down and out, but everything points to another odd win for Newcastle, who have had the upper hand in this fixture in recent weeks.
Manchester United vs Nottingham Forest
Manchester United have one foot firmly in the final. And with Erik Ten Hag desperate to buy himself more time at Old Trafford with a title win, the Red Devils are unlikely to be complacent.
The Dutch manager will present another strong XI, led by Casemiro, who continues to win the hearts of the United faithful with his consistent displays. The Brazilian notched a brace in last weekend’s FA Cup tie against Reading.
For most of the season, United have thrived on the break, making swift transitions from defence to attack in seconds with the fewest passes possible.
Tomorrow night’s encounter lends itself to another counter-attacking masterclass. The Tricky Trees will look to fly out of the blocks, taking more risks offensively. Manchester United simply need to be reactive in exploiting the impending spaces. Marcus Rashford, who scored in the first leg, will fancy his chances. Bruno Fernandes will also expect to influence this game positively.
Cooper’s side will need to do the improbable to progress. They need a perfect game plus some measure of luck. The Forest manager will be requesting a repeat of some of the fluid passing and movements that his team exhibited in spells in the first leg.
Brennan Johnson, Danilo, and Gustavo Scarpa were exciting at times at the City Ground. They will need to be more effective in Manchester.
This is a challenge a little too insurmountable for the visitors. Hence, another comfortable win for Manchester United is on the cards.