EIGHT THINGS to look for in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals

Pepe’s in Arsenal’s last chance saloon and Origi and Minamino can prove they can fill Klopp’s AFCON void… but will this be the last live action for fans before a lockdown? EIGHT THINGS to look out for in the Carabao Cup quarters

  • As football battles Covid outbreaks, the Carabao Cup quarter-finals take place
  • Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea are among the teams in the last eight
  • Nicolas Pepe is running out of opportunities to justify his huge £72m transfer fee
  • Tottenham boss Antonio Conte is keen to be the man to end the trophy drought 
  • League One Sunderland find themselves underestimated ahead of Arsenal trip
  • Sportsmail picks out eight things to keep an eye on ahead of quarter-final action 

With football clubs, and the country as a whole, in the midst of a Covid crisis in the lead up to Christmas, there is the small matter of the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup. 

West Ham’s penalty shootout win over holders Man City in the last round ensured there will be a new name on the trophy for 2021-22.

The Hammers are one of seven Premier League teams left with just one Football League side left standing: Sunderland, of League One. 

Phil Foden missed his penalty kick as Manchester City were eliminated from the Carabao Cup by West Ham on penalties in the last round and so there will be a new winner for 2021-22

With a final at Wembley in touching distance, and this tournament representing the first opportunity of a domestic trophy this season, managers will be urging players to seize the moment. 

Key questions surround the resting and rotating of players, with so many ruled out through positive Covid tests. 

For those who do get an opportunity it is both a chance to stake a claim for more minutes but also a chance to put themselves in the shop window ahead of the January transfer window.

Sportsmail picks out eight things to keep an eye on ahead of the quarter-final ties. 

Will this be the last live football for fans for a while?

The million pound question. 

With managers calling their squad outbreaks unsustainable and postponements piling up across Premier League over the last fortnight, it definitely feels like fans’ ability to keep going to games hangs in the balance.

Fans at events with more than 10,000 people – as per Government rules – have already been made to start showing Covid passports to gain entry to matches, causing delays.  

But with Omicron case numbers rising daily, the Carabao Cup may be one of the final times fans are let in before restrictions are tightened even further after Christmas. 

Football and all other sports will be held behind closed doors in Wales from Boxing Day, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is mulling over whether to introduce the same rule in England.

Any changes would not affect this week’s Carabao Cup ties, but fans lucky enough to be in attendance would be wise to savour the experience.  

The Premier League have vowed to carry on, ignoring calls for a ‘festive firebreak’, but the decision on fan attendance – both in the top-flight and below it – rests with the government. 

Time will tell if the quarter-finals prove to be the last time we see packed stadiums for a while.

There are ongoing doubts about how long fans will be allowed into major sporting events

QUARTER-FINALS 

December 21

7.45pm – Arsenal v Sunderland

December 22

7.45pm – Brentford v Chelsea

7.45pm – Liverpool v Leicester

7.45pm – Tottenham v West Ham 

The return of Nicolas Pepe

This round of the Carabao Cup is important to many players looking to make an impression but few need a big display quite like Nicolas Pepe. 

The £72million club record buy ended last season with a flourish but has found himself limited to scraps here or there under Mikel Arteta this season.

Having not started a Premier League game since Arsenal faced Crystal Palace in mid-October, Pepe should be banging the door down to face Sunderland on Tuesday. 

‘Obviously, with the amount of games we have got, there’s not enough room for all those players,’ Arteta said of Pepe’s situation last week. ‘With Nico’s situation, it’s something similar.

‘I’ve highlighted on many occasions it’s (based) on what I see every day. That’s with Nico as well. But he needs more opportunities to show what he can do and in the last few games, he hasn’t had them.’ 

Arteta has already cast Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang aside and failure to break into the team against a side in the third division could spell the end for Pepe.

It’s now or never for the Ivory Coast winger. 

Nicolas Pepe joined Arsenal for a club record £72million but he is now in the last chance saloon

Will Tuchel follow through on Brentford no-show threat?

‘We’re putting the health and safety of players at huge risk,’ fumed Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel on Sunday.

He had just seen his depleted side – which saw him name just six substitutes, two of which were goalkeepers – held to a stalemate at Wolves and questions soon turned to Wednesday’s quarter-final against Brentford.  

Tuchel has seven positive cases to deal with while injuries are also mounting, and his expensively assembled squad is being wrecked heading towards Christmas.

Asked if he believes the midweek game with Brentford – who are battling their own outbreak – should go ahead, Tuchel was left clueless. 

He added: ‘If we have the next test and the next positive I would like to speak to the people from the Premier League what they expect.

‘Shall we stop and not arrive in the next game if we are made to play? When they make us play against Brentford shall we not arrive? Shall we not train anymore? What shall we do?’

Tensions are running high and with both sides wracked by positive Covid cases it would be quite something if this game got the green light from organisers. 

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has doubts about having a Carabao Cup quarter-final this week

Rested Hammers ready to attack Spurs 

West Ham under David Moyes have been one of the stories so far as they continue to go toe-to-toe in the race for the top four.

The Hammers got the weekend off after a request by Norwich to postpone Saturday’s match was accepted by the Premier League amid the league-wide surge of Omicron variant Covid cases.

West Ham were good value in knocking out Pep Guardiola’s City side in the previous round and while Tottenham showed against Liverpool they look a more formidable outfit following their extended break, a refreshed West Ham team is one to be feared.

They have home advantage – again – and Moyes’ group have a point to prove after being turned over by Arsenal in their last outing. 

Moyes’ side have won only one of their last six Premier League games but they have a knack of digging in in big moments under the Scot and they will need to do just that if they are to turn a quarter-final spot into a semi-final one.

With a near full complement of players available, Moyes knows there won’t be a better chance at silverware this season with his group two rounds from Wembley. This one should be a cracker. 

West Ham are rested but they have a point to prove after losing to Arsenal last time out

Sunderland could prove a banana skin 

The ‘they have nothing to lose’ cliche is tired and rarely proved true but Sunderland can definitely head to the Emirates unburdened by expectation. 

As the lowest ranked side left in the competition, Lee Johnson’s side go to the Emirates Stadium as huge underdogs but find themselves three unbeaten in recent League One outings.

Striker Ross Stewart told ChronicleLive in the build-up: ‘We’ll go there as huge underdogs and it’s a bit of a free hit, but at the same time we will go there with the belief that we can go there and win the tie.

‘It’s a tough game but one I’m sure there will be a right buzz for.’

Provided they get a green light for fans to continue going, the Black Cats will be backed by a vocal support in the Arsenal away end. 

Stranger things have happened than Sunderland turning the Gunners over on their own patch… 

Sunderland are huge underdogs but that can work to their advantage away to Arsenal

Conte pushing to end Spurs’ silverware drought

Chelsea are the defending champions of Europe, Liverpool are in contention for this season’s Premier League title and West Ham are looking to go all the way in the Europa League.

For Tottenham, this, and the FA Cup from January, represent their only hopes of silverware this campaign.

It only grew in importance after UEFA confirmed Spurs had to forfeit their final Europa League Conference game against Rennes, kicking them out of the competition altogether. 

It was this tournament when Tottenham last won a trophy, winning the title back in 2008.

West Ham beat Tottenham in their only league meeting this season, winning 1-0 at the London Stadium, and so there will be a sense of revenge for Conte, as well as edging a step closer to a major trophy.

League title wins at Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan show Conte’s quality and while Spurs are well off anything of that level, winning the Carabao Cup would represent a real sign of progress.  

Antonio Conte is looking to end a 14-year trophy drought for Tottenham in the Carabao Cup

Rodgers returns to Anfield

Whether Brendan Rodgers wants to acknowledge it or not, there is always an added spice to coming up against a former club.

The former Liverpool boss has been able to get his players back into training following the closure of their base after an outbreak.

Leicester showed their cup credentials by winning the FA Cup last season, and the Community Shield back in August, and the Foxes will fancy their chances even with the daunting task of needing to turn Liverpool over at Anfield. 

History does not reflect too kindly on Rodgers and his returns to Anfield since being axed as Liverpool boss. 

In his two trips back since, he has left a loser on both occasions – beaten 2-1 in the first trip before losing more comprehensively the following time, going down 3-0.

But, along with their cup credentials, Leicester know they can take the game to the best around on their day.

Opportunity beckons for Rodgers and his players.  

Origi and Minamino need to step up 

As things stand, the Africa Cup of Nations is still expected to go ahead. 

That is bad news for Liverpool with Mohamed Salah (Egypt) and Sadio Mane (Senegal) potentially devastating departures in the middle of the Premier League season.

No doubt there would be little disappointment on Merseyside or across the Premier League if the 24-team competition that is due to begin in Cameroon on January 9 was scrapped.  

Salah and Mane are absolutely vital to Liverpool and have already combined for 31 goals and 10 assists before Christmas.  


Divock Origi (left) and Takumi Minamino (right) will be pushing to be involved vs Leicester

Their departures next month would see an increased reliance on Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino, both of whom are pushing to be involved against Leicester this week.

Origi has come up with big goals as an impact sub during his time at Anfield and while Minamino has his fans, the pair of them have a real opportunity against Leicester to prove they are more than able deputies during AFCON. 

Belgian striker Origi is believed to be out of contract next summer and if he is determined to earn a new deal to remain at Anfield then it will be the coming weeks where he can really bolster his case. 

He has five goals from 10 appearances so far this season while Minamino has four goals from 12 games. 

Leicester are no pushover, even with their Covid outbreak hampering them, and a strong performance from one, or both, of these peripheral stars will go a long way to calming nerves about losing their star duo to AFCON next month.  

With Sadio Mane (left) and Mohamed Salah (right) set for AFCON, Liverpool need to see quality from their players on the periphery of the attack, such as striker Origi and winger Minamino




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