After the completion of the Quarter-Final ties on Wednesday, we now know who will be playing who in the Semi-Finals of the Carabao Cup.
Southampton, who heroically defeated Manchester City in their Quarter-Final match, were first out the hat and will face highflying Newcastle United after they comfortably came out on top in their tie against a disappointing Leicester. In the other Semi-Final, Nottingham Forest, whose match against Wolves was decided by a penalty shoot-out, will be up against Manchester United who defeated plucky League One Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford. The first legs of the Semi-Finals will be played on Tuesday 24th January at Southampton and Wednesday 25th at Nottingham with the return legs played a week later on Tuesday 31st January at Newcastle and 1st February at Manchester.
Now let’s take a closer look at the four teams and what to expect in the Semi-Finals and beyond.
From a historical perspective, since the inauguration of the League Cup in 1969 (as it was originally known before sponsorship deals caused its name to be changed to the Milk Cup, the Littlewoods Cup, the Rumbelows Cup, the Coca-Cola Cup, the Worthington Cup, the Carling Cup, The Capital One Cup and now the Carabao Cup), Manchester United have won it five times, and are the 3rd equal most successful club in the competition together with Aston Villa and Chelsea, whilst Forest have lifted the trophy on four occasions and lie in equal 6th place on the leader board with Tottenham. Southampton, on the other hand, have never won it, although they were beaten finalists in 1979 and again in 2017. Newcastle’s record in the competition is even worse having only reached one final back in 1976. Unfortunately for the Geordies, they were defeated 2-1 by Manchester City with Geordie-born Dennis Tueart ironically scoring a spectacular overhead kick winner for the team in blue.
If we take a look at current league positions, one could assume 3rd placed Newcastle should successfully dispose of bottom of the table Southampton, a team who have only managed three league victories all season. Home advantage in the second leg at a bouncing St. James’ Park should also help a rejuvenated Newcastle secure their place at Wembley. In similar fashion, it is expected that 4th placed Manchester United, who are, at the time of writing, level on points with Newcastle in the Premier League but with an inferior goal difference, should be able to defeat Nottingham Forest in 15th place, a team who have only managed 4 victories in the league this season. Having home advantage in the second leg should also work in Man. United’s favour. That being said, it is a cup competition and form goes out the window on these special one-off occasions under the floodlights.
The dates when different fixtures take place and other cup commitments could also play an important part in how these Semi-Finals pan out. Whilst Newcastle, Southampton and Forest all have a Saturday match in the Premier League prior to the first-leg on the Tuesday night, Man. United travel to top of the table Arsenal for a very challenging Sunday fixture with a 17.30 kick-off time. Not only having less time to recover than their Carabao Cup opponents, but also having to play such tricky opposition immediately prior to their Semi-Final match in Nottingham, is sure to give Forest some encouragement. Furthermore, the two legs are sandwiched in between the weekend of the 4th Round of the FA Cup. As they were both knocked out in the previous round, Forest and Newcastle have all weekend free to prepare for their 2nd leg ties whilst Man. United entertain Reading and Southampton welcome Blackpool to St. Mary’s. Although both teams will undoubtedly field weakened teams in the FA Cup, it still gives Forest and Newcastle more time to prepare and concentrate all their efforts in the second leg matches.
As this is a cup competition anything can happen. You just have to look at Southampton’s victory over Manchester City in the last round to give an example of how unpredictable cup matches can be, especially when the teams have a number of games to juggle and prioritise. However, if the favourites were to go through as expected, the Carabao Cup Final would be contested between Newcastle United and Manchester United. It is a match that is scheduled to take place on 26th February and cannot be rescheduled. Where it gets interesting from a Newcastle perspective is that Man United have to play Barcelona in the Europa League on 17th and 23rd February. These are two huge games that also cannot be rescheduled and with the return leg at Old Trafford coming only days before a possible Carabao Cup Final, it is sure to give their opposition on the day, should they get past Forest, added motivation. If that team is Newcastle they will be looking to lift their first piece of silverware since their Inter City Fairs Cup (forerunner to the Europa League) triumph of 1969.
So who do you think will win? Tiki-Taka Linguistics’ money is on Newcastle United.