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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. Manchester City

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Can the Reds break their semifinals hoodoo?

Manchester United v Manchester City - Premier League - Old Trafford Photo by Paul Ellis/PA Images via Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Wednesday’s match:

(1) For the second straight season, it’s a Manchester derby in the EFL Cup semifinals. Let’s hope for a better result this time. A year ago, Manchester City jumped all over the Reds at Old Trafford, scoring three times in the first half en route to a 3-1 first leg victory. Manchester United salvaged some pride in the reverse fixture with a 1-0 win, but it wasn’t enough and Pep Guardiola’s side advanced and completed the EFL Cup three-peat.

(2) Unlike past years, the semifinal stage of the 2020/21 EFL Cup will be just one leg. If Manchester United defeat their crosstown rivals this week, get ready for a long wait. This competition’s final will not be played in its traditional late-February slot, but rather on April 25 — in hopes that fans will be allowed back at Wembley Stadium by that time.

(3) Hopefully, Wednesday’s match will not be a repeat performance of last month’s derby. Both United and City showed little ambition or drive in that drab 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, preferring to sit back and not overextend themselves. It doesn’t make for pulse-pounding viewing, but it was probably a smart move by Pep Guardiola to opt for pragmatism — especially considering some of his side’s results against the Reds. Other than last season’s aforementioned first-leg defeat, Manchester United have mostly carved up City on the counter in recent meetings.

(4) Edinson Cavani will miss Wednesday’s cup tie as he serves the second match of his suspension, but the Uruguayan’s strong form seems to have lit a fire under Anthony Martial. The 25-year-old has notched three goals and four assists in his last six matches and will need to lead the line until Cavani returns against Burnley later this month.

(5) Even in a season with relatively little pressing — owing to a Covid-congested fixture list — Manchester City’s defense nevertheless ranks atop the Premier League in goals allowed. They may be without goalkeeper Ederson and right back Kyle Walker for this one, though. More on that in a minute.

(6) You wouldn’t know it by the way they crushed Chelsea on Sunday, but Manchester City are dealing with a bit of a Covid-19 outbreak in their squad. After calling off a match against Everton last week, they returned to action at Stamford Bridge this weekend — albeit down five players who tested positive and are now self-isolating. And these aren’t bit players, either. Kyle Walker, Gabriel Jesus, Ederson, Ferran Torres, and Tommy Doyle all missed the win over Chelsea and must be considered big question marks for Wednesday.

(7) No Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres leaves Pep Guardiola short of options up top. Especially since Sergio Aguero is still working his way back to full fitness. At Chelsea, Kevin De Bruyne played as a false nine with Aguero coming off the bench for four minutes near the end. Could the Argentine marksman be in line for a start in the semifinals?

(8) Manchester City aren’t expected to be especially active in the January transfer window, but the striker position remains a huge need. Aguero is out of contract this summer and it’s hard to believe that Guardiola plans to rely too heavily on the up-and-down Jesus. Of course, many have already earmarked Lionel Messi moving to the Etihad on a free if he chooses to leave Barcelona. Another option that seems to be gathering steam is a big-money deal for Erling Braut Haaland. Fingers crossed that City come up empty on both counts.

(9) Pep Guardiola on Manchester City’s playing style:

We have known each other for a long time. We cannot make transitions, we need to play one tempo. Others play with transitions, but we can't play that way. Play another type of tempo and, in the right moment, run. Our success in the past was this way — the idea is important — we start at the keeper and end with the wingers and strikers. Today [against Chelsea], we were able to do it.

(10) An interesting visual on Manchester City’s structure against Chelsea:

(11) In the other EFL Cup semifinal matchup, Tottenham Hotspur take on Brentford. The high-flying Bees, who sit fourth in the Championship, are unbeaten in their last sixteen games in all competitions. Making that all the more impressive, Brentford have sold big-time talent like Ezri Konsa, Neal Maupay, Ollie Watkins, and Said Benrahma over the past two summers — and still remain in prime position for promotion to the Premier League.