Chris Bland turns his focus to the Carabao Cup where three tantalising Premier League encounters punctuate the midweek schedule. Each of them feature in Wednesday night’s £5,000 Pick 5 pool so, if you agree with Chris’ Carabao Cup tips, get involved for yourself.
Liverpool vs. Arsenal
Liverpool come into the game fresh from victory over Spurs and impressed with their quality moving forward, eventually breaking past the in-form Paulo Gazzaniga to record a ninth win in ten in the league. They will be hoping to carry their impressive league form into the Carabao Cup. However, Jurgen Klopp will be expected to rotate his squad in a hectic period.
A much-changed Liverpool defeated MK Dons in the previous round and the likes of Adam Lallana, Rhian Brewster and Divock Origi could be given the chance once again to impress.
The pressure is beginning to build on Unai Emery, who’s side threw away a two-goal lead against Crystal Palace, and rumours of dressing room discontent are rife. Looking to bounce back, they couldn’t ask for a tougher ask and Emery will hope to utilise his youngsters in a competition that will not be a high priority for the Spaniard.
Liverpool’s midfield should be able to control the game up against the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Joe Willock, whilst the pace and intensity of the attacks could be too much for centre halves Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding, who will struggle to cope with the free-flowing football. Although Fabinho will be rested, the energy of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita should make up for the defensive miss and help to cut off the supply up top the Arsenal attack, allowing them to dominate possession for large periods of the game.
Arsenal looked to exploit the space in behind the Liverpool backline in their 3-1 defeat in August and Emery’s tactics nearly worked, with Nicolas Pepe guilty of spurning chances as the spaces vacated by the on-rushing full backs were targeted. However, with youngster Ki-Jana Hoever and the experienced James Milner expected to start, they could see less space and a more reserved Liverpool defensive line, leading to a tighter encounter.
Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka are expected to lead the line for the Gunners and Saka in particular will be fanciful of causing problems to the Liverpool backline, particularly on the break and will be an area that Liverpool will need to stop.
The level of rotation from both sides will have a huge bearing upon the game, however I believe Liverpool will have enough to see off Arsenal, with the stand out depth of Liverpool’s midfield trio being enough to control the game and do the damage to a susceptible Arsenal back line.
Aston Villa vs. Wolves
A balancing act is required for the two managers in this tie, as the local derby element will increase the need for a win. However, it is a competition Wolves could do without and they will be more likely of the pair to rotate which should play into the hands of Dean Smith’s side.
Aston Villa impressed on the break against Manchester City on Saturday, creating chances in the first half, and should take a level of confidence from that heading into the game and their 4-3-3 should play into the hands of Smith, especially against the back three of Wolves. They will look to expose the wide areas, creating overloads and expecting the full backs to push high and the energy of their full backs, coupled with the creativity of Anwar El-Ghazi and Trezeguet, should cause problems for the Wolves backline.
Jesus Vallejo and Max Kilman are expected to start in the backline for Wolves and will be targeted by Villa, particularly from crosses, and it is certainly an area of threat for Villa.
Wolves’ fixtures are piling up so its hard to see this game being a high priority for Nuno Santos. A draw away at Newcastle after a sloppy start came via some excellent tactical switches from Santos. However, the lively Adama Traore and in-form Raul Jimenez will expect to be rested. Patrick Cutrone expected to start, however his goalscoring form has been questionable, netting just the once in the league and cup, underperforming his xG by 1.13. Wing back Ruben Vinagre will offer an interesting outlet, as he looks to exploit the space vacated by Villa’s full backs, and will be key to any counter attacks Wolves can create.
Averaging under 50% possession in games this season, Wolves will expect to soak up large volumes of pressure before looking to exploit the gaps, however they should offer enough threat to create chances. The question mark lies on the clinical nature of their strikers as, without Jimenez on the pitch, whether Cutrone can be clinical enough is another question.
A very tough game to call, particularly bearing in mind the level of rotation Wolves will opt for. Dean Smith will be more likely to opt for a full strength side and, if he does so, it makes the Villains the stand out option. The wide play from Aston Villa will create a number of crossing opportunities and Wolves will be reliant on the break to create opportunities and, with the likes of Jack Grealish expected to start, Aston Villa possess the creativity and quality to break through a potentially youthful Wolves side.
Verdict: Aston Villa
Chelsea vs. Manchester United
Another blockbuster clash awaits on Wednesday night with Frank Lampard’s side looking for revenge after their opening day 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Manchester United. The sides have seen contrasting fortunes since, however it is difficult to take the bearing of the league form into this game too seriously, as both sides will look to rotate in a busy period where this cup competition will not be a priority.
Chelsea are expected to give a number of squad players a chance to impress including Michy Batshuayi, who will be full of confidence following his winner in Amsterdam the previous week. Pedro and Ross Barkley are also in need of minutes and it will be a mix of youth and experience in this Chelsea side.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s stretched squad will see a number of youngsters given a chance to impress and he will need to try and balance the squad as to not get over run by a Chelsea side packed full of quality. Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong and James Garner are amongst those expected to start and they have struggled at times this season to break teams down.
A draw in the last round against Rochdale, as well as Europa League games against AZ Alkmaar and Astana, highlighted these issues, as United have struggled from open play. Andreas Pereira impressed on Sunday in the number 10 role, and could be given another chance moving forward, however an xG from open play in the league of 9.03 is worrying, and with further players rested, they will lack a cutting edge.
Playing away at Chelsea will suit Solskjaer’s tactics, as they have been effective in their last three counter attacking at pace, however without Dan James, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial set to spearhead the attack, it looks to be a game too far for this stretched, youthful squad. The class Chelsea have at their disposal will be too much for United, with Pedro and Batshuayi particularly standing out going forward.
Reece James will provide an excellent option at full back and should help to create an overload out wide for Pedro to exploit, whilst Batshuayi’s ability to find himself in goalscoring positions has been on show this season. In just thirteen minutes against Ajax, he accumulated four shots and an xG of over one, and with the creative talent and young midfield of United lacking protection to the United back line, chances should be a plentiful once again.
It is hard to see past a Chelsea side brimming with confidence and the depth to punish United, as Solskjaer will look to prioritise the trip to Bournemouth on Sunday over this tie.