The Capital One Cup nears its business end as the teams prepare to enter the round of 16 on Tuesday and Wednesday. Disappointingly, Hull City Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday are the only three teams that remain in the competition who do not ply their trade in the Premier League.
Nevertheless, this week is sure to see a surprise or two with three quality Championship sides raring to go against Premier League opposition.
Stoke City 33/20
For Jose Mourinho and his side, the sense of crisis around Stamford Bridge has deepened significantly after another league loss at the weekend. A league win against Aston Villa and a 0-0 stalemate in the Champions League against a strong Dynamo Kyiv side seemed to have signaled that the English Champions had turned the corner. However, the defeat away to West Ham at the weekend has piled the pressure on the beleaguered English champions who look a shade of their former selves.
Stoke also head into the tie after a somewhat surprising home defeat to Watford on Saturday. Prior to the game, the Potters had won four league games in a row and were steadily climbing the table after a disappointing end to the 2015/16 season.
I can’t see Mourinho fielding a particularly strong side for this clash which should play nicely into Stoke’s hands. This competition represents the Potters’ most realistic chance of silverware this season, as such they’ll more than likely field a full-strength side. With Chelsea in disarray at the minute, I’d back Stoke to get the job done at the Britannia tomorrow.
Hull City 7/4
Leicester City 15/10
Red-hot Hull City welcome an ever-improving Leicester City to the KC Stadium on Tuesday. Hull have done incredibly well thus far in the Championship and currently find themselves in the second automatic promotion place behind Brighton and Hove Albion. Steve Bruce’s men head into this encounter having not lost in six matches, their last win coming against a solid Birmingham City outfit. The Tigers have shown excellent intent going forward this season, however, it is their miserly defence that has seen them establish themselves near the top of the Championship. The only real injury concerns for Hull at the moment are Alex Bruce and Sone Aluko who are both doubtful for Tuesday evening’s tie.
Leicester aren’t in bad nick themselves. The Foxes head into this encounter having lost just once in their last six outings – that defeat came against Arsenal in September. Perhaps surprisingly, they find themselves sitting in fifth place on the Premier League table. Much of this, however, is down to the form of Jamie Vardy. The English centre-forward has been in mesmeric form this season finding the back of the net 10 times.
While this looks as though it could be a close-fought affair, Leicester can rely on the tactical guile provided by Claudio Ranieri. This coupled with the massive attacking threat posed by players like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez should be enough to see them past a spirited Hull City side. Back the away win at 15/10.
Sheffield Wednesday 6/1
Arsenal will travel to the Hillsborough Stadium to face Sheffield Wednesday in a fixture that romantic fans hope might just produce a surprise. The Owls, who sit ninth on the Championship table, head into this match with a string of injury concerns. Michael Turner, Alex Lopez, Marco Matias and Modou Sougou will not be fit to face the Gunners while Keiren Westwood, Sam Hutchinson and Glenn Loovens are all doubtful. Replacing first-choice ‘keeper Kieren Westwood will be 19 year-old Joe Wildsmith. Wednesday head into the tie having won four and drawn two of their last six games, their most recent win coming at the weekend against second-from-bottom Rotherham.
The Gunners go into this match in excellent form. Arsene Wenger’s charges have recovered from an iffy start to their season to record convincing victories over likes of Manchester United, Everton and German Giants Bayern Munich, in their last four games. Wenger, however, will not risk any of his stars in this game, giving fringe and youth players a chance to shine.
Even though Wednesday have been in excellent form of late, I simply can’t see them getting one over Arsenal’s reserve/youth side. Arsenal don’t offer much value in terms of the win, I’d back the Gunners to keep a clean sheet at 21/20.
Norwich City 13/5
While this may not appear to be the most glamorous tie of the round, it could well prove to be one of the most thrilling. Everton go into the clash having lost their last two games against Arsenal and Manchester United. Although United swept the toffees aside two weeks ago, Roberto Martinez’ side gave a spirited performance against Arsenal at the weekend. Martinez will be without captain, Phil Jagielka who is out injured while Gareth Barry is suspended. Steven Pienaar (hamstring) and Tom Cleverly (ankle) could both feature if they pass late fitness tests.
Norwich have endured an indifferent start to their season and currently find themselves sixteenth on the Premier League table after just two wins from ten games. Alex Niel’s side will be desperate for a decent cup run in a season that will likely see them involved in a relegation scrap. Good news for the Scot, however, is that he will only be without the services of Yousouf Mulumbu and Gary Hooper.
Even though Everton may field a slightly weaker side for this clash, I still can’t see Norwich getting the win over the Toffees. Back the home win at 7/10.
Manchester City 7/20
Crystal Palace 7/1
Manchester City have been in imperious form the season. They currently sit top of the Premier League and second in their Champions League group. Although Manuel Pellegrini’s men failed to score in a dull 0-0 draw at Manchester United last weekend, they have won all five of their previous games in all competitions scoring 13 and conceding just four in that time. I don’t see City fielding any of the players that did duty against their crosstown neighbours on Sunday, instead he’s likely to name a squad comprised solely of fringe and youth players.
After a promising start to their campaign, Crystal Palace have hit a bit of a rough patch of late, losing their last two games against West Ham and Leicester City. Even with those losses, the Eagles still find themselves in seventh place on the Premier League table. Palace have struggled since losing Connor Wickham to a calf injury. The big centre-forward put in a massive performance in the Eagles’ 2-1 away win at Chelsea and hasn’t featured since. They still remain a dangerous side, however, with plenty of options going forward. If Wickham is unable to take the field on Wednesday evening, the likes of Yanick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon will have to show the form that saw the Eagles soar at the end of last season and the beginning of this campaign.
This is quite a tricky one to call. I think Palace might just spring a surprise here if they field a full-strength side against a weakened City outfit. Back Crystal Palace for the surprise victory away at the Etihad at 7/1.
Liverpool come into this game having narrowly scraped past a spirited Carlisle side at Anfield at the end of September. The Reds’ form hasn’t been particularly good of late, Jurgen Klopp’s men have won just once in their last six games having drawn the rest. The Anfield faithful will be hoping that a solid performance against an out of sorts Bournemouth team can kick-start their season. The Reds are likely to be without Daniel Sturridge as he recovers from a knee problem while Joe Gomez, Danny Ings, Jordan Rossiter and Jordan Henderson are all more than a month away from competitive action.
After a promising start to their first ever Premier League season, Bournemouth have started to unravel a bit. Eddie Howe’s team have conceded ten goals in their last two games having only won once in their last six. The Cherries will have to improve if they’re to stand any chance of winning against a Liverpool team who look as though they’re about to click under new boss, Jurgen Klopp. Bournemouth will be without Lee Tomlin, Callum Wilson, Max Gradel and record-signing Tyrone Mings.
This should be a fairly straight-forward win for Liverpool. Back the Reds to score in both halves at 11/10.
Aston Villa 13/2
Southampton head into this fixture on the back of some impressive performances including a massive 3-1 win away at Chelsea. Ronald Koeman’s side experienced a poor start to the season, however, with the likes of Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane starting to click, they’re now looking like one of the most dangerous attacking teams in the league. Koeman will be without Shane Long and Jay Rodreguez while Fraser Forster isn’t expected back until next year.
Aston Villa are in freefall at the moment having lost five of their last six games in all competitions. To make matters worse, the Villains have parted ways with manager Tim Sherwood. Rudderless and seemingly out of ideas, Villa are in dire straits and sit bottom of the Premier League table. The men from Birmingham will be without Ciaran Clark, Gary Gardener as well as Jores Okore for the clash.
This seems like a fairly easy one to call. Villa have just been so poor this season, I simply can't see them having any joy when they head down to the south coast on Wednesday, back Southampton at 4/10.
Manchester United 7/20
Manchester United have got themselves off to a decent enough start this season under Louis van Gaal. They currently find themselves sitting fourth in the league while they've also recovered somewhat in the Champions League after a surprise opening day defeat to PSV. The Old Trafford faithful will still have their reservations about this season though as their side haven’t really been able to get a good run of wins going. In their last five games they’ve won twice, drawn twice and lost once. You can expect van Gaal to field a relatively inexperienced side as he’ll not want to risk injury to any of his big guns. United will be without Antonio Valencia who has a slight knock, Paddy McNair (abdominal strain) and Luke Shaw (broken leg).
After narrowly missing out on promotion to the Premier League last season, Middlesbrough have started this season like they mean to go on. They currently occupy fourth spot on the Championship table. The Boro will be confident heading into the tie after an excellent win last time out against Wolves. Aitor Karanka has a few injury headaches heading into the match. He’ll be without Albert Adomah, Christian Stuani, Damia Abella, Rhy Williams and Alex Baptise. Stuart Downing should be fit to return, though, having come on off the bench against wolves at the weekend.
This looks as though it should be a fairly straight-forward win for United. Boro haven’t travelled particularly well this season and I don’t seem them getting one over United. Go for the home win at 7/20.