With each passing defeat over the festive period Everton’s new year Capital One Cup adventure has grown in importance.
The League Cup is now no longer Everton’s best chance of winning a trophy, it’s the best opportunity of qualifying for Europe and it may just keep Roberto Martinez in a job.
Lying between them and a day out at Wembley is Manchester City, with the two-legged semi-final sandwiched between a Premier League trip to the Etihad Stadium next Wednesday. With a trip to Stamford Bridge also thrown into the mix, it is a formidable start to 2016.
There were no real easy teams left in the final four so Everton cannot really complain about being pitched against a City side who, while devastating going forward, have also shown vulnerability at the back.
I’m sure Man City fans are saying similar things about Martinez’s Everton though, with the Toffees’ attacking unit arguably the finest seen at Goodison in a generation but continually let down by woeful defending.
Simply reaching the last four should be considered something of an achievement for Everton who have a miserable record in the league Cup.
This is just the fifth time the Toffees have reached the semi-final since the competition’s inception in 1960, winning two and losing two in that time.
The most recent semi-final was against Chelsea in 2008 when David Moyes’ side were out-classed over two legs and bowed out 3-1 on aggregate.
But with the club’s trophy-drought now ticking over into a 21st year supporters are growing frustrated and will no longer be satisfied at only reaching the last four, especially as the side’s nagging inconsistency appears to have scuppered any hopes of glory in the league this season.
Manuel Pellegrini’s expensively assembled side need little introduction, with the club lifting five trophies since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover in 2008.
With the presence of soon-to-be-unemployed Pep Guardiola looming in the background Pellegrini knows the pressure is on for him to prove he’s still worthy of the top job at the Etihad Stadium.
They have lifted the League Cup on three occasions, most recently in 2014 when they came from behind to beat Sunderland in the final.
Winning the League Cup alone may not be along in persuading his Abu Dhabi-based overlords but it will certainly help, meaning we shouldn’t expect a significantly weakened City side to trot out at Goodison on Wednesday evening.
Most Evertonians will welcome the news that Joel Robles will replace Tim Howard in goal as he has done for all the League Cup matches so far this season.
Captain Phil Jagielka returned to the bench at the weekend after nine weeks out with a knee injury but is unlikely to feature here, with the FA Cup third round tie against Dagenham and Redbridge a more likely date for a comeback.
Steven Pienaar is also unlikely to be risked as he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury while James McCarthy is sidelined with a groin strain.
Muhamed Besic and Gerard Deulofeu are pushing for starts after impressing from the bench against Tottenham.
Despite his injury problems Man City striker Sergio Aguero will be handed a starting spot by Manuel Pellegrini while fellow striker Wilfried Bony is ruled out with calf strain.
Influential captain Vincent Kompany is also absent after suffering a recurrence of a calf injury.
Everton simply have to take some sort of lead from the first leg if they are to have a realistic chance of progressing at the Etihad Stadium in three week's time.
City are significantly weaker at the back without the injured Kompany so they are certainly capable of scoring the required number of goals, it’s keeping them out at the other end though that is making me nervous.
Predicted starting XI: Robles, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Baines, Barry, Cleverley, Deulofeu, Kone, Barkley, Lukaku.