Everton will look to reach their first semi-final in four years when they host Manchester United in Wednesday’s EFL Cup quarter-final.
The Blues come into this clash in great form, having beaten Chelsea, Leicester City and Arsenal in succession.
But United will provide a stern test for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, sitting in third place in the Premier League and having won every domestic away game this term.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side may also take confidence from their trip to Goodison Park in the Premier League last month, which saw them record a 3-1 victory over Everton.
Ahead of Wednesday’s game, we spoke to Colin Damms, writer for SB Nation’s United site, The Busby Babe:
RBM: Firstly, given Solskjaer has yet to win a trophy in his two years as United boss, should the EFL Cup be a higher priority than usual this season?
Colin: I won’t say higher than usual, only because Solskjaer clearly wanted to win it last season, as well as the FA Cup and Europa League.
I think he realizes that a trophy as well as top four will check the ‘signs of progress’ box on his evaluation this season, and it would be meaningful in building a winning mentality in the squad as well.
RBM: Similarly, suppose someone could guarantee you a United win here, or in their Boxing Day league game at Leicester City. Which one would you take?
Colin: That’s a tough one. Probably this one because I’m more concerned about Everton as an opponent than I am Leicester.
I’d also like to see us continue our good form outside of the Premier League where possible. Getting knocked out of the Champions League was a bit of a blow, and I think getting meaningful cup wins may help restore confidence in the side.
RBM: United moved up to third with their 6-2 win over Leeds United on Sunday, and sit just five points behind leaders Liverpool with a game in hand. Can they challenge for the title?
Colin: I still think it’s too early to tell, but I do think it’s possible. It may be more a reflection of the season than our quality, but we’ve had a decent run of wins after starting poorly.
Our forwards need to start scoring though; I don’t expect Bruno Fernandes will be able to carry the weight all season.
RBM: United were deserved winners in last month’s Premier League clash at Goodison. Do you think that game will give them much of a mental advantage ahead of this match?
Colin: Probably not a mental advantage. Everton are also in very good form, and perhaps more importantly have kept clean sheets. I think they’re more aware of how good Everton are now than the last time we played.
RBM: Despite their good form, United have kept just one clean sheet in their last eight matches. Is this much of a concern to you?
Colin: Yes. We’ve been poor defending corners this year, and make a lot of defensive errors when we otherwise defend rather well. The errors are worrying, especially in a time where Solskjaer is trying to evaluate goalkeeping options for the long-term future.
I think the regular back four of Shaw/Maguire/Lindelof/Wan-Bissaka is still our best option, but I expect rotation for this game.
RBM: Dean Henderson and David De Gea started one each of United’s last two games in goal. Who should Solskjaer go with here?
Colin: Personally, I’m still Team De Gea in terms of the no. 1 battle. I would like to see Henderson get the call for this one though. He was the starter in each of United’s first two League Cup matches, so I think it’s important he plays for the entire competition if that is what he was promised at the beginning of the season.
I’m confident he’d be up for it as well, and it gives him another fair opportunity to try and win the job.
RBM: How do you expect United to set up on Wednesday?
Colin: I think Solskjaer will keep the preferred 4-2-3-1 shape, but with a few personnel changes. If he is fit, I think Pogba will start alongside Donny van de Beek in midfield with Fernandes on the bench. Edinson Cavani may start as well, as he seems back to full fitness.
Our options on the wings are a bit limited, but Marcus Rashford seems likely to start again, and I could see Daniel James getting another start as well after a good performance against Leeds. With Luke Shaw hurt again, Alex Telles will probably take his place in the usual back four in front of Henderson.
RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Colin: I think whoever comes off the bench in midfield will change the game in our favour. Solskjaer has taken full advantage of both the form of Fred and Scott McTominay and the addition of van de Beek to our midfield depth. He’s been able to keep at least one useful creative midfielder as a reinforcement option, and it’s worked quite well for us.
I think it’ll be Fernandes for this game, and as our undisputed talisman he’d be the likely answer to this question anyway. He was brilliant last time out, and he’ll likely be needed to make the difference again.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Wednesday’s game?
Colin: I’ll say United win 2-1. Equalize late in the second half after Bruno comes on, and either Rashford or Martial scores the winner.
Our thanks to Colin for his time.