Middlesbrough host Chelsea in the first leg of Carabao Cup semi-finals on Tuesday with Liverpool facing Fulham at Anfield on Wednesday; Watch both games live on Sky Sports Football and follow the action across the Sky Sports website and app
Image: Which managers will take a step towards Wembley with a first-leg win in the Carabao Cup this week?
Can Sterling help guide youthful Chelsea?
Image: Raheem Sterling celebrates his goal for Chelsea in their win over Preston last weekend
Mauricio Pochettino was in a playful mood ahead of Chelsea’s FA Cup victory over Preston. Asked whether the third-round tie marked the beginning of an important six months for Euro 2024 hopeful Raheem Sterling, the Chelsea boss responded: “You already know he’s going to play?”
Pochettino kept onlookers guessing up until the teams were revealed an hour before kick-off. Despite sitting 24 places above Preston in the league pyramid, he felt the need to keep Sterling in the starting XI.
With so many young players in Chelsea’s squad, Pochettino no doubt values the experience provided by the 29-year-old. Sterling’s inclusion paid off against Preston, where he provided an assist and the pick of the four goals, an excellent free-kick from the edge of the box.
The stakes are higher at Middlesbrough on Tuesday – live on Sky Sports – where Chelsea will be hoping to take a confident step towards the Carabao Cup final.
Highlights from the Carabao Cup quarter-final match between Chelsea and Newcastle.
With Chelsea in mid-table in the Premier League and without European football, the domestic cups have taken on an even greater importance than usual.
Fortunately for Chelsea, they can call on a player who has already lifted this trophy five times. If Pochettino feels his youthful squad require guidance through this semi-final, he need look no further than Sterling.
Carrick to be the golden one?
It hasn’t been a good period for the ‘Golden Generation’ managers.
Wayne Rooney has been sacked by Birmingham, Steven Gerrard is struggling in Saudi Arabia, and Frank Lampard remains without work following his departure from Everton and underwhelming interim stint at Chelsea.
Step up Michael Carrick. Last season he led Middlesbrough from the relegation zone into the play-offs. This campaign, having seen his squad options depleted after key departures and loan returns, they are looking a more mid-table Championship outfit as he refurnishes and rebuilds.
Highlights from the Carabao Cup quarter-final match between Port Vale and Middlesbrough
But the Carabao Cup presents him with a golden chance to show what he is made of. A kind passage of fixtures, in which they have only faced one fellow-Championship opponent, and none from the Premier League, has presented him and Boro with this tie against Chelsea.
Perhaps he is a tad unfortunate that it is a Blues side that have no European football this season and are perhaps already out of contention to make next season’s Champions League. These two legs will have their full focus, and it has only been a few days since they made light work of Preston North End in the FA Cup.
An upset remains a long shot, but Carrick’s men put in a strong showing against Aston Villa at the weekend, and will be hopeful of causing problems to Chelsea. Perhaps the pressure on their opponents will provide them with a chance.
Klopp has Liverpool eyeing the prize
Liverpool head into their semi-final clash with Fulham on the back of an FA Cup third-round win over Arsenal which highlighted the game-changing ability of their manager. It is Jurgen Klopp, as much as any player, who makes them favourites to lift this trophy.
Sunday’s game was just the latest example of why. Liverpool rode their luck during a one-sided first half at the Emirates Stadium but it was thanks to Klopp that they were able to fight back and win it. He was proactive with his changes. Mikel Arteta could not keep up.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp insisted he is not paying attention to any talk that Jordan Henderson could return to the club
First, there were tactical adjustments at half-time, with Klopp instructing his side to bypass Arsenal’s press by going direct. Alisson only made four long passes in the first half; in the second, he made 10. Suddenly, Liverpool were able to get at Arsenal.
Liverpool’s improvement was immediate but Klopp did not stop there. Before the hour mark, with the game still poised at 0-0, he made a double substitution which saw Diogo Jota and Ryan Gravenberch replace Cody Gakpo and Alexis Mac Allister.
Those changes allowed Klopp to move Darwin Nunez to the left, where he shone, and another double substitution followed as youngsters Conor Bradley and Bobby Clark replaced Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones. Arsenal were flummoxed. Soon, they were behind.
Arteta made changes of his own in response, but they were reactive, rather than proactive. While one manager was seizing the initiative, the other was losing his grip on the game. Klopp’s gleeful celebrations showed the extent of his satisfaction.
Liverpool fans will hope to see more scenes of celebration when Fulham visit Anfield on Wednesday. You would not bet against them. More domestic cup success to match 2021/22’s double looks likely. And that is thanks to Klopp as much as anyone else.
Silva aiming for special moment with Fulham
When Marco Silva ended speculation about his future by committing to a new contract at Fulham in October, he said he wanted to create something special at the club. Ahead of their biggest game in over a decade, the work he is doing in west London demands respect.
A first-ever League Cup semi-final awaits. The test couldn’t be much harder, with two legs against Liverpool, starting with a trip to Anfield on Wednesday night. But Fulham have shown a capacity to produce the unexpected this season.
Highlights from the Carabao Cup quarter-final match between Everton and Fulham
Back-to-back 5-0 wins in December made everyone sit up. Victory over Arsenal at Craven Cottage on New Year’s Eve underlined the quality in the group. Liverpool saw that first hand in the thrilling 4-3 when the sides met in the Premier League last month and a late Trent Alexander-Arnold cracker was required to maintain their winning run at home.
All that evidence suggests Fulham can cause Liverpool problems again. Disappointing defeats to Burnley and Bournemouth before that Arsenal win have hit their league position but in a season in which top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic left late in the summer window and key man Joao Palhinha has suffered with injuries, Silva’s coaching has continued to impress.
Repeating Roy Hodgson’s trick of taking Fulham to a major final would be a historic achievement.