Neatly sandwiched between all the festive games in England are the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup. Four of the usual Premier League “Big Six” are in action with Arsenal hosting Manchester City, while Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton will look to continue their gradual rise with a victory over resurgent Manchester United. Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur travel to Stoke, while Brentford welcome Newcastle United to west London. Here’s our preview of the quarterfinals.
Last season’s losing Championship playoff finalists have been through their usual off-season rejig, where the bigger fish pick off their brightest talents. Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa) and Said Benrahma (West Ham) departed for the Premier League over the summer, but Brentford’s fine planning meant the transition to this season has been seamless. They are undefeated in 13 games and beat Reading 3-1 at the weekend to go fourth in the Championship, with Bryan Mbuemo looking like he’s found top form after grabbing a brace.
Brentford’s recruitment and analytics strategies — where they bring young talent straight into their B-Team, having done away with the academy — have drawn envious glances from higher up the food chain, and the club look capable of punching above their weight. While Watkins is living up to his £27m price tag in the Premier League at Villa, his replacement Ivan Toney — signed from Peterborough for £5m plus add-ons — has filled his sizeable shoes with aplomb. He has 16 goals already this season and will hope to leave his mark on Newcastle: a club where he spent four seasons but only played 41 minutes as a youngster.
Newcastle’s recruitment strategy seems a little more slapdash, and while Brentford enjoy relative calm in the boardroom, the Magpies seem to be stuck in a cycle of speculation and posturing over ownership and long-term direction. They drew 1-1 with Fulham on Saturday, in a game which had further VAR controversy, and sit 12th in the Premier League.
It’s hardly ground-breaking form, but equally it’s testament to manager Steve Bruce that he can keep the ship out of choppy waters amid the political wrangling behind the scenes and the COVID-19 outbreak at the club. Newcastle have concerns over who’ll be fit to play at centre-back but Bruce should be optimistic about reaching the semifinals.
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ESPN FC’s Janusz Michallik questions how “average” Arsenal can turn things around under Mikel Arteta.
When these two last met in a cup competition, Arsenal were enjoying the welcome warmth of optimism under new boss Mikel Arteta. Arsenal knocked Pep Guardiola’s City out of the FA Cup semifinals in July and went on to win the trophy, which was seen as the first giant step in the Arteta revolution. But fast-forward four months and Arsenal are at rock bottom — 15th in the Premier League, with their last win coming on Nov. 1.
Arteta is now favourite to be the next manager sacked, though…
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