On Tuesday and Wednesday evening, the semi-finals of the 54th League Cup competition were held at the Stadium of Light and the City of Manchester Stadium, respectively.
In the first match, Manchester United's miserable 2014 continued with a defeat at the hands of Sunderland. This loss to the Premier League's worst team means David Moyes' men have kicked off the year with three consecutive 2-1 losses.
Worryingly, this represents the first time Utd have lost three games in a row since May 2001, and those were the final games of the season when they had already wrapped up the title.
Full credit is due to Sunderland for grafting a well-deserved first leg lead, but United were negative, unattractive, unable to finish and guilty of careless defending. Moyes gave us a good laugh by blaming the situation on the referee at full time, but this game was clearly indicative of much bigger problems—and a dressing room that has been lost.
At Eastlands on Wednesday night, meanwhile, Manchester City gave West Ham a comprehensive lesson in how to play football—something they showed little aptitude for.
Looking to bounce back from an embarrassing 5-0 rout in the FA Cup at Nottingham Forest at the weekend, the Hammers had matched that scoreline within an hour and conceded one more time for good measure.
Sam Allardyce may argue that the league is the priority, but shipping eleven unanswered goals in the Cups this week will do little for their confidence.
Even when they were coasting along in the second half, Man City were far superior, showing the fearsome goal-scoring prowess that has made Eastlands a fortress this season. Manuel Pellegrini's side have now managed 59 goals in 15 home matches, an average of 3.9 per match.
Clearly there is only one stadium in Manchester that teams are afraid to visit right now.
Read on for some of the best images from the first legs of the League Cup semis...
Despite kicking off 2014 with two consecutive 2-1 defeats and the doubts of the Old Trafford faithful weighing on him, David Moyes started the match at the Stadium of Light with a broad smile.
Once 90 minutes had passed, this was more representative of his disposition.
Before the game, United veteran Ryan Giggs greeted his former colleague and current adversary Wes Brown.
The Sunderland defender won 12 trophies at Old Trafford and grew up in Longsight as a neighbour of fellow youth prospect Danny Welbeck. Despite his affinity for the reigning champions, Brown insisted before the match that he would like to "take advantage" of their poor start to the season.
It transpired that he played a part in the opening goal...
The Black Cats took the lead shortly before the half time whistle with a goal made by former United players Wes Brown and Phil Bardsley.
After a free kick scramble in the six-yard box, it was Ryan Giggs—the man who had warmly greeted Brown—who eventually turned it into his own net.
Seven minutes into the second half, Nemanja Vidic calmed the nerves of the raucous travelling support by rising above former colleague John O'Shea to convert a Tom Cleverly corner.
One of these men is struggling to keep his side near the top of the table while the other is trying to lift his team from the bottom of it.
Before the game, Gus Poyet gave David Moyes the vote of confidence, insisting he was still the right man for the job. Did he still feel this was the case afterwards?
In the 64th minute, Tom Cleverley was unlucky to give away a penalty when he made contact with substitute Adam Johnson, in an incident that seemed to start outside the box.
Fabio Borini, on loan from Liverpool, converted the resultant spot kick with an unsaveable drive into the top-right corner.
Borini celebrated the winning goal with his trademark hand-biting celebration. (If you know why he does this, please leave a comment below!)
The Mirror ran the picture on their back page on Wednesday morning under the pun-tastic headline "Stadium of Bite."
Adnan Januzaj, Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck stand in bemusement as they look to restart the game after going 2-1 down.
Adnan Januzaj was probably United's standout player in a limp collective performance, and no one looked more likely to steal an equaliser. Here he is being knocked in the air by Phil Bardsley to win a free kick.
Despite this being a major cup semi-final against the reigning Premier League champions, there were banks of empty seats at the Stadium of Light.
The official attendance figure according to the BBC was 31,547. That left around 17,500 seats unused.
This isn't strictly an image, but the Sky Sports cameras caught a brief interaction between Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton tells you everything you need to know about Manchester Utd's plight.
At the final whistle, the two Utd legends exchanged a glance and Charlton shook his head in dismay. The moment perfectly captured the fear at the club that "The Chosen One" is not fulfilling his prophecy.
Fergie and Charlton will be hoping the Red Devils can turn it around in the second leg on January 22.
Now then, on to Wednesday evening's action.
As West Ham entered the proverbial lions' den of Eastlands with a number of injuries and barely a glimmer of hope for a victory, pornographer and Hammers owner David Sullivan took to his seat wearing his usual Soviet-style hat and jacket combo.
What he saw unfold before him was more brutal than the political rule of the USSR and less convincing than an exclusive headline in the Daily Sport newspaper he used to own.
In what may be remembered as one of his final moments as West Ham manager, Sam Allardyce took to the field cutting the figure of a man who used to be King Midas at West Ham—but now everything he touches turns to defeat.
Even his chewing gum seems too ashamed to stay in his mouth.
He made the unusual decision to wear a tracksuit on the touchline for this match, perhaps with the view of lacing up and entering the field himself if things got really desperate...
Alvaro Negredo needed only twelve minutes to score his first of three of the evening, putting away a superb volley (which West Ham's defence appeared to have minimal interest in preventing.
As you can see, there were also a fair few empty seats at this semi-final, too. The BBC quote the attendance at 38,000, meaning around 10,000 seats were going spare.
A cumulative total of 27,500 unused tickets at the semi-final first legs is a damning indictment of the state of this competition.
At the 25-minute mark, Negredo added another brilliant finish, teaming up with Edin Dzeko using what must surely amount to a telepathic understanding.
The looks on his and Vincent Kompany's faces in the celebration suggested this would not be a difficult night.
In a move that is typical of his locomotive style, Yaya Toure charged from the halfway line in the 40th minute all the way to the goal.
Much like Sepp Blatter at a FIFA presidential election, he ran virtually unopposed.
Alvaro Negredo completed his hat-trick a few minutes into the second half, when he ended up with the ball at his feet 12 yards out with no absolutely defenders near him, after Samir Nasri and David Silva capitalised on a poorly cleared corner kick.
This is Big Sam at the 80-minute mark, with his side having conceded five goals—the same tally they notched up at against Nottingham Forest on Sunday.
Allardyce promised a stronger team than the one that capitulated in the FA Cup at the City Ground, but this performance was equally as abject.
At this point, the travelling contingent had turned on the manager, offering some very NSFW criticism.
Having played at half-speed for the final third of the game, City imparted one final indignity on their guests in the 88th minute, with Edin Dzeko burying an unstoppable shot in the top-left corner of the goal from the edge of the box.
It's safe to say that the second leg will be a formality.
This is what a man looks like when he has conceded 11 goals in two games.
To be fair, Adrian actually had a pretty good game and made a few brilliant saves. There was very little that could have been done about most of the goals he conceded. It was all down to the 10 men standing in front of him.