What We Learned About Each Team in the Capital One Cup Semi-Finals
With the first legs of the Capital One Cup semi-finals done and dusted, only one of the ties is categorically decided, with a minor miracle required for Manchester City to miss out on Wembley.
They may have to go through the motions in a fortnight, but having smashed six past West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, Manuel Pellegrini’s men can start looking forward to the final.
In the other clash, Sunderland hold a slender advantage over Manchester United following a 2-1 win at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday, with Fabio Borini’s second-half penalty turning out to be the winner.
But with David Moyes under intense pressure to turn things around at Old Trafford, it’s still all to play for in the North-West later this month.
So with both clashes at the halfway stage, we look at what was learned from this week’s League Cup fixtures.
Manchester United’s Lack of Creativity Has Reached Critical Levels
Adnan Januzaj aside, Manchester United’s lack of invention from midfield was painful to watch at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday.
Time and again, the Red Devils failed to capitalise on good spells of possession and looked static in the face of some solid Sunderland defending.
David Moyes is well aware of the need to add a creative spark to his team this January, and on Wearside, the issue was emphasised once more.
As intelligent as Tom Cleverly and Michael Carrick are, neither possessed the kind of creativity needed to open the home side up on a regular basis, and Moyes will need to have a rethink ahead of the second leg.
West Ham United Need to Dust off Their Cup Catastrophes
Nothing is going right for Sam Allardyce and West Ham United at the moment, but the remainder of their season rests heavily on how they respond to their cup catastrophes.
Off the back of a 5-0 hammering by Championship side Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, the Hammers needed a trip to Manchester City like a hole in the head, and they were brutally dealt with
But as demoralising as these defeats are, the true test of their mettle will come this weekend, when Cardiff City play host to the East Londoners for a real relegation six-pointer.
Win in the Welsh capital, and their cup woes will be brushed to one side and forgotten about. But lose, and it will be a long road back for West Ham and surely the end of the line for Allardyce.
Manchester City Mean Business on the Trophy Front
When Manchester City reached the FA Cup final last season, victory seemed such a formality that they appeared to forget they had to go out and actually win it.
Struggling Wigan Athletic took full advantage of such condescension and famously won the trophy with a last-gasp goal that left the big spenders with egg on their collective faces.
Fast-forward to this season, however, and there is an air of coldblooded ambition about City, as if the shock of losing at Wembley last term has fueled their motivation.
They dealt with West Ham United swiftly and efficiently on Wednesday, scoring three goals in each half to kill the tie off long before the second leg gets underway.
Few would be surprised if they carried such professionalism into the final itself.
Sunderland’s Luck Is Restricted to the Cups
In both the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup so far this season, Sunderland have enjoyed the kind of luck that can carry teams through even the toughest of times.
In the Premier League, however, the fortune which has pushed them to the brink of a Wembley final has all but deserted the Black Cats this term, and with over half the season gone, they remain rooted to the bottom of the table.
Gus Poyet’s men take a lead to Old Trafford in two weeks and have a real chance against an out-of-sorts Manchester United. They’re also through to the fourth round of the FA Cup, with a home tie against lower-league opposition lined up.
But as attentions turn to their vital trip to Fulham on Saturday, the majority on Wearside would swap progression in both cups for top-flight survival in a heartbeat.