The two most in-form teams in the Premier League turn their attention to the EFL Cup tonight as Manchester United host Manchester City in a mouth-watering derby at Old Trafford.
The local rivals are meeting in the semi-finals of the competition for the second year in a row, and both of them come into the contest off the back of notable weekend wins.
Manchester derbies are always hugely anticipated affairs, but today’s showdown is particularly promising with a place at Wembley up for grabs and both teams coming into the match in fine form.
Victories over Aston Villa and Chelsea respectively at the weekend ramped up the talk of a potential title challenge for both clubs, despite both making underwhelming starts to the season.
They have since made up for lost time, though; Man United have taken 26 points from the last 30 on offer in the top flight, with Friday night’s triumph over Aston Villa sending them level on points with champions Liverpool at the summit, while Man City have won five and lost none of their last seven league games.
It was the nature of Man City’s triumph over Chelsea on Sunday which raised talk of a potential title challenge as Pep Guardiola’s side put the Blues to the sword during a clinical display at Stamford Bridge.
The fact that it has taken until the New Year for such talk to really arise shows how far below par Man City have been for much of the campaign, although in terms of defeats they have only suffered two in their 24 outings across all competitions this season – three times fewer than today’s opponents.
Despite that, it is Man United who sit second in the table, three places and four points above their neighbours, albeit having played a game more.
The Red Devils also have great pedigree in this competition, with this match being their 16th appearance in the League Cup semi-finals – second only to Liverpool.
Man United have progressed from nine of their previous 15 semi-finals, but have been knocked out in two of their last three and, as is the case with the Premier League as well, it is Man City who have had the greater bragging rights in this competition in recent years.
Indeed, Guardiola’s men are bidding to lift the trophy for the sixth time in the last eight seasons this term, and for the fourth time in a row – a feat only previously achieved by Liverpool from 1981 to 1984.
Should Man City go all the way again then they would also equal Liverpool as the most successful club in the competition’s history, having won the trophy seven times compared to five for Man United.
The holders cannot allow their focus to drift beyond Wednesday’s game, though; remarkably they have only lost two of their 23 League Cup matches under Guardiola, and they have both come at the hands of Manchester United.
The most recent of those was in the second leg of last season’s semi-final when Man United won at the Etihad but were still knocked out as Man City marched on to the trophy again, having won the first leg 3-1 at Old Trafford.
A repeat of that result would do City just fine in what is a one-legged semi-final this season as they look to progress from a League Cup tie for the 19th time in a row, a run which stretches back to that first Man United defeat in October 2016.
Guardiola has won 17 of his 24 matches as a manager in this competition, while Man City as a club have progressed from each of their last five League Cup semi-finals, winning the trophy each time.
Add to that the fact that the home team has ended up on the winning side in just three of the last 14 Manchester derbies, and Man City will be arriving at Old Trafford full of confidence. – SportsMole