Manchester City and Liverpool head the list of teams coveting a berth in the League Cup semi-finals this week as the competition reaches the quarter-final stage without several major names.
With Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and holders Chelsea having fallen by the wayside, City and Liverpool will already have designs on the February 28 final at Wembley.
City, who host second-tier Hull City on Tuesday, won 3-1 against Southampton at the weekend and having lost to Liverpool and Juventus in their two previous games, and goalkeeper Willy Caballero hopes Saturday's success proves a turning point.
“We need to play like this the next game,” he told the club website. “In December, if we play in this way, if the injured players return, like David Silva today (Saturday), I think we will stay in the first positions of the table.”
Caballero is in line to deputise again for the injured Joe Hart, while manager Manuel Pellegrini must decide whether to hand a start to influential striker Sergio Aguero, who went off with a knock against Southampton.
“We must try to recover the players for Tuesday,” said Pellegrini. “It's important for us to reach the semi-final of the League Cup.”
Liverpool face a difficult trip to Southampton on Wednesday, but they will go into the game having lost only one of the 10 games they have played since Jurgen Klopp succeeded Brendan Rodgers as manager.
Klopp saw his team beat Swansea City 1-0 on Sunday courtesy of a James Milner penalty and was also boosted by the returns from injury of captain Jordan Henderson and striker Daniel Sturridge.
“It's good news. They are very important players and they did well,” said Klopp, who revealed that Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho could face Southampton despite sitting out Sunday's game with a hamstring complaint.”
“Philippe had a very intensive session yesterday (Saturday), but we decided two or three days ago that we didn't want to risk (him) for this game,” said the German. “Now I think he's fit. I saw him in the dressing room and he looks good. I'll have to talk with him tomorrow (Monday). I think he's ready for Southampton.”
Everton will hope to continue their recent attacking form when they travel to second-tier Middlesbrough, who pulled off a stunning penalty-shootout victory away to Manchester United in round four.
Everton have scored 14 goals in their four games in November, notably crushing Newcastle United 6-2, overwhelming Aston Villa 4-0 and playing out a gripping 3-3 draw at Bournemouth on Saturday.
But Everton led 2-0 and 3-2 at Dean Court, only to twice let Bournemouth back into the game, and Romelu Lukaku says that his side will need to tighten up for the trip to the northeast.
“It's a good learning moment for us as players because we want to evolve and become a better team,” said the Belgium striker, whose goal at Bournemouth took his tally for the season to 12 in all competitions.
“The result (at Bournemouth) is not easy to take, but we need to move forward and learn from these type of games.”
The remaining quarter-final, on Tuesday, sees Stoke City host second-tier Sheffield Wednesday, who dumped Arsenal out of the tournament with a rousing 3-0 win at Hillsborough a month ago.
League Cup winners in 1991, Wednesday have not reached the last four since 2002, while Stoke have not gone as far as the semi-finals since they won the tournament in 1972.
Manchester City vs Hull City, Middlesbrough vs Everton, Stoke City vs Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton vs Liverpool (Wednesday).
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