There is nothing quite like a good old fashioned cup tie is there? In the opening week of 2016 we get two of them as the League Cup semi-final first legs take place.
Tuesday 5th January 2016
Wednesday 6th January 2016
An all Premier League line-up sees two nicely matched games. The football fan in me (and of course the Manchester United fan in me) will be cheering the underdogs who will both be hoping to take a lead into the 2nd leg.
Stoke City have been a progressive side for a while now. After Tony Pulis built a solid league side, Mark Hughes has done a fantastic job taking the team onto the next level. Whilst still maintaining the grit off the ball, Hughes and the club have added some attacking signings the fans simply wouldn't have expected. Bojan Krkic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic have become the Stokie three amigos and proven handful for any side. Coming into this one they can barely be in better form and the side will fear no one home or away right now.
Jurgen Klopp is a fun manager to listen to and watch. As of yet we have seem just glimpse of his personality in the first team performances and they were in the early weeks with those great wins at City and Chelsea. Right now he is managing a few players below the level needed to consistently use his tactical approach. That will change next summer but for now he has to make do. His frustration is evident, with the crazy celebrations for drawing a game to the rant at the players after their weekend defeat to West Ham.
It will be interesting to see how the players respond with the next four fixtures the Stoke cup game, FA Cup tie at Exeter City, hosting league leaders Arsenal and arch rivals Manchester United. A number of his current players will need to impress in these games for their long term future. Daniel Sturridge may be fit and they look so much better when he plays, Christian Benteke is playing some clumsy football but scoring so goes into this one as favourite to play. As ever Philippe Coutinho looks their star and the man at the heart of much of their good play. The manager expects a positive reaction from his team and they have looked much better away from home since he took over.
Everton are in a frustrating period under Roberto Martinez. The bright young manager has found it hard to move the Toffees onto the next level and the club find themselves stuck mid-table in the Premier League. Martinez though has shown himself capable of master minding a cup triumph and his side have the attacking options to expose a Vincent Kompany less City. City have looked awful defensively without their captain and look ripe to be exposed by the red hot Romelu Lukaku and ever improving Ross Barkley/Gerard Deulofeu. It's the other end where they have had problems and facing a City attack likely to be as strong as possible will be a real test.
City come into the game on a high after their late comeback at Watford. The return to scoring ways of Kun will have also lifted the players and City are a big game side. Fantasy owners will nervously watch to see If Kun and Silva can get through this one without injury recurrence.
Two great games to watch and matches where any result is possible.