LONDON (AFP) – With Manchester City romping away with the Premier League title race, this week’s League Cup quarter-final action offers Pep Guardiola’s side the chance to remain on course for a domestic treble.
City head to Leicester hoping to reach only the second semi-final of Guardiola’s 18-month reign after losing in the FA Cup last four against Arsenal in April.
The League Cup also provides hope of silverware for the teams trailing in City’s wake.
Holders Manchester United travel to Bristol City to face the only team from outside the top flight still alive in the competition.
Arsenal host London rivals West Ham, while Chelsea take on Bournemouth.
Guardiola learns lesson of Leicester loss Pep Guardiola’s first experience of Leicester’s frenetic style of play memorably prompted the Spaniard to declare he “didn’t coach tackles” after City were roughed up in a 4-2 defeat at the King Power Stadium 12 months ago.
Guardiola has heeded the lesson of that chastening experience, assembling a City side now more than capable of slugging it out with opponents intent on trying to intimidate them.
They proved that point with a 2-0 win at Leicester earlier this season and will be expected to repeat that victory if Guardiola fields a strong team in tonight’s Cup tie following a 4-1 rout of Tottenham on Saturday that made it 16 successive league victories.
With the League Cup final scheduled for February 2018, the tournament gives Guardiola his earliest chance this season to get his hands on the first silverware of his City reign.
Leicester, three-time League Cup winners, last made the final in 2000, but their boss Claude Puel knows how to mastermind a run in the competition after leading Southampton to last season’s final.
Forced to play second fiddle to their hated neighbours this season, Manchester United need to amass as much silverware as possible outside the Premier League to stop City taking all the bragging rights.
Jose Mourinho’s side, 2-1 winners at West Bromwich Albion in the league on Sunday, lifted the League Cup last season and the next stop on their road back to Wembley will be an unfamiliar one.
For the first time since 1979, United travel to Ashton Gate to face a Bristol City side who haven’t beaten the Manchester giants for 39 years.
City are on the up in the Championship, sitting in third place after beating Nottingham Forest for their fourth successive second-tier win on Saturday.
A sell-out crowd awaits United in the west country and City assistant manager Dean Holden said: “Manchester United at home doesn’t happen too often does it? “It’s going to a fantastic night for the whole city of Bristol.”
For a club with such an illustrious history, the League Cup has been barren territory for Arsenal, who have won the competition just twice and not since 1993.
The Gunners, who last made the final in 2011, haven’t been helped by boss Arsene Wenger’s habit of using the League Cup as a proving ground for his club’s emerging youngsters.
West Ham’s visit to the Emirates Stadium is unlikely to be treated so lightly by Wenger, who knows trophies are essential to placate a fanbase frustrated by another failed challenge in the league.
He might find room in the team for 20-year-old Ainsley Maitland-Niles after the midfielder’s impressive showing during Saturday’s 1-0 win over Newcastle.
“That’s just the start of what’s to come for us,” Maitland-Niles said.
Aware that City’s dominance makes a repeat of last season’s title triumph unlikely for Chelsea, Blues goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has called on his team to sweep up the rest of the silverware this season.
That mission starts at home to Bournemouth and, speaking after Saturday’s 1-0 league win over Southampton, Courtois said: “It’s important to win in the League Cup, to go through to the semi-final.
“The FA Cup will start in January. We have chances to win and go further.”