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(So we reach the quarter final stage of the competition without any London clubs. The only representative from the south of Staffordshire being Southampton. Quite an unusual turn of events).

In stark contrast to the young team Arsenal fielded in their game against Sheffield Wednesday, Manchester United put out a vastly more experienced team in their tie with Middlesbrough. That’s not to say they were a lot older, United’s team contained Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, James Wilson and Memphis Depay. All young players but with more first team experience than the Arsenal youngsters.

I would like to think that this was to show the opposition, the competition and the fans some respect but I doubt that was the reason. As anyone who read my article after the Arsenal game will be aware, I was critical of the lack of respect I thought was shown by Arsene Wenger to the three aforementioned bodies, but I did include the other top managers as well, as they can be just as disrespectful when they think it necessary.

Here’s that article if you missed it.

I suspect that the reason van Gaal put out a strong line-up was largely down to what happened last year. Losing away at MK Dons 4-0 would not have been the start to his Cup career in England that he would have chosen.

Manchester City also fielded a fairly strong team so maybe my including van Gaal and Pellegrini was a little unfair. Let’s see what happens after Christmas. If either of them are still in the Champions League AND the Capital One Cup it could get interesting, particularly as the FA Cup will also be around by then. (Edit: after their result against Middlesbrough, United will not be challenging for the Capital One Cup any longer)

Both the Manchester clubs had very strong benches as well so, if they encountered any unexpected problems, the theory was that they would have the armoury to counter them.

In fairness to Arsenal the size of squads at City and United does provide an embarrassment of riches not currently available to Arsene Wenger, but he will hope to add to his side in January, (or so you would think, although you never really know with him).

Anyway, the games in Manchester went the way these cup games often do. City with, in theory, the tougher task against Premier League opposition in Crystal Palace, went for a stroll in the park and won the game 5-1, without really having to use any of their benched “big guns”, other than to give a rest to “tired” team mates.

United who, on paper, had the easier game against Championship side Middlesbrough, soon found out that the game is played on grass, not paper and struggled throughout. They did indeed call upon their big guns, although to call Wayne Rooney a big gun in his current form is stretching things a little. Maybe a big gun during an ammunition shortage! They were taken to extra time by a spirited Boro side who had a couple of chances to win it during normal time but Romero managed to thwart their efforts.

Middlesbrough eventually did win it on penalties thanks, in the main, to an absolutely pathetic display of penalty taking by United. How players like Rooney, Carrick and Young can even consider picking up their wages when they can’t score from 12 yards with only the goalkeeper to beat is beyond me, but I bet they do.

Over at Anfield Jurgen Klopp decided to make changes.. Some enforced, some not. I really can’t accuse him of disrespect at the moment as he will be taking advice from coaches and others who, no doubt, profess to be experts in the matter of English cup competitions. The advisors turned out to be correct in their judgements though, as Liverpool ran out 1-0 winners.

Meanwhile, down at St. Marys, Southampton and Aston Villa both fielded teams capable of getting a result. The only difference between them was the confidence levels. Southampton seem to have rediscovered their form whereas Villa don’t appear to know where to start looking for theirs. Maybe a new manager will give them a clue. Southampton won the game slightly more comfortably than the 2-1 scoreline suggests.

Judging by the teams fielded this evening it would be nice to think that this competition, which stretches back to the 1960-61 season when it was introduced by Alan Hardaker, has regained some of it’s prestige even though it has never been highly regarded by many in the game. Maybe, just maybe, with the cut-throat competition for the Premier League and the Champions League, this little cup has taken on a touch more relevance than it used to have.

In 2010, in response to Arsene Wenger’s claim that a League Cup win would not end his trophy drought, Alex Ferguson described the trophy as “a pot worth winning”. Let’s hope a few more managers start to feel the same.

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