It’s time to read the tea leaves with respect to key players featured (or rested) in the Carabao Cup as we try to glean who will be in the XI this weekend.
Manchester United v. Tottenham (Saturday)
There’s no wait for the big game as the early Saturday slot features the battle for second place between two defensive-minded squads with no shortage of offensive stars.
Following the shock defeat at Huddersfield, there is some good news for the home side as defenders Eric Bailly and Phil Jones have both passed fit. Ander Herrera (67 minutes), Marcus Rashford (67 min), Anthony Martial (87 min) and brace-scorer Jesse Lingard (90 min) started in the 2-0 win over Swansea. Meanwhile, Romelu Lukaku made only a cameo appearance from the bench.
Danny Rose (81 min) returned from long-term injury, as did fellow wing back Ben Davies (90 min) from a shorter-term illness, but the shambolic 3-2 loss to West Ham on Wednesday certainly dented the pair’s cause for starting together again this weekend. Dele Alli (90 min) was the only offensive regular to earn a start; Christian Eriksen (9 min) and Harry Kane (DNP) were rested. After suffering a “cramp” in the romp over Liverpool, Kane has been ruled out from what is clearly a more serious leg injury, so Fernando Llorente (72 min) should earn a start leading the line after being removed earlier than Son Heung-Min (83 min). Following a substitute appearance in a return from injury, Moussa Dembele (18 min) could start for the first time since GW4.
How bad is Crystal Palace? Well, the Eagles lost 4-1 on Tuesday to Bristol City, which sits in 7th place in the Championship. So, maybe a little worse than you already thought? After all, while Wilfried Zaha was rested, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (90 min) made a return from injury, and a decent number of the regulars started. This weekend, the midfield may not be whole: James McArthur faces the dreaded game-time fitness test.
The Hammers will come into this one in a far better mood following the Carabao win over Spurs. Andy Carroll played the full 90 and returns from suspension, leaving the question of whether Slaven Bilic was resting or benching Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Brace scorer Andre Ayew also played the full 90 and would love to be rewarded with another start, which should happen if the doubtful Michail Antonio fails to pass fit. Manuel Lanzini (88 minutes) started for the second game in a row and will likely make it three.
Three players vital to the Albion defensive spine — Craig Dawson, Jonny Evans and Gareth Barry — were injured in the Southampton loss last weekend; Evans and Barry should be fit to return for the Manchester City blitz, but Dawson will be out for a while, leaving Allan Nyom to fill in.
With Champions League coming up, the Citizens were not looking to play extra time against Wolves on Tuesday, but that’s just what happened as City won via penalty kicks. Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling both went the full 120. Gabriel Jesus also started, but was removed after 82 minutes, with Kevin De Bruyne coming on for an extended cameo. John Stones, Leroy Sane and Kyle Walker each came on for less than 30 minutes, while Fabian Delph, Fernandinho, Nicolas Otamendi and David Silva were completely rested.
Liverpool v. Huddersfield
It’s a mid-table battle between two evenly matched teams separated by only one point in the standings! Yes indeed, it just so happens that one of those teams finished fourth in the Premier League last season, while the other was fifth... in the Championship... with a negative goal differential. Pretty amazing, eh?
Following several wretched defensive performances by the Reds, the spots of Dejan Lovren and James Milner are definitely under fire, with Trent Alexander-Arnold among those pushing for inclusion. Jurgen Klopp has had a difficult time deciding between Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge up front, as neither player has staked a claim on the field. However, with Philippe Coutinho a doubt, Firmino and Sturridge could end up starting together.
The Terriers’ Steve Mounier returned from injury as a substitute for Laurent Depoitre last weekend, but given that Depoitre scored a goal against Manchester United, it’s possible that he will be rewarded with another start.
After scoring his team’s second goal, Roberto Pereyra came off injured in the Chelsea match, and Andre Carillo will be expected to repeat as his replacement. Elsewhere, uncertainty surrounds whether Troy Deeney and/or Andre Gray will start up front for the Hornets as Marco Silva has not settled that part of the line-up.
After missing out on the loss to Bournemouth, midfield maestro Xherdan Shaqiri is expected to return for the Potters.
The Gunners earned a late comeback victory over Norwich on Tuesday, with the cherry on top being that Arsene Wenger rested all of his regular starters. Instead, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Olivier Giroud, Rob Holding, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and even Mathieu Debuchy earned playing time in a mondo bizarro line-up that felt like it was cobbled together from various iterations over the past few years. Defender Skhodran Mustafi returns following injury but does not seem ready to regain his starting spot from Per Mertesacker.
Wing back Martin Olsson will miss out following injury in the Swans’ mid-week loss at Manchester United, while forward Wilfried Bony and midfielder Renato Sanches remain out. Either Angel Rangel or Sam Clucas, each of whom played 90 minutes, should take over for Olsson. Up front, Jordan Ayew played the full 90 while Tammy Abraham was rested, but both will be expected to continue their pairing together.
Bournemouth v. Chelsea
After scoring both goals in the win over Stoke at the weekend, Junior Stanislas was rested in the 3-1 win over Middlesbrough on Tuesday. Instead, Callum Wilson played the full 90 in his return from injury, appearing for the first time this season. Fellow offensive threat Joshua King is doubtful, while Jermain Defoe is good to go.
Danny Drinkwater (62 min) featured for the first time on Wednesday for the reigning champs, but defenders Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger were the only regular starters who played major minutes in the victory over Everton. Cesc Fabregas, Alvaro Morata, and Pedro each came in as substitutes in the 70th minute or later, while stars Cesar Azpillicueta, Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard and David Luiz were rested entirely.
Brighton v. Southampton (Sunday)
Tomer Hemed’s three game red card suspension is over, but it couldn’t come at a worse time for him following Glenn Murray’s brace in the 3-0 win at West Ham. It would be no surprise to see Murray continue as the lone forward.
With Mario Lemina out injured for the Saints, Sofiane Boufal should earn a start after scoring the game winner against West Brom as a substitute.
Leicester v. Everton
Claude Puel’s Southampton side ranked only 14th in goals scored while conceding the eighth fewest times in the league last season, so expectations are that he is going to focus on keeping things tight in the Foxes’ back for his first game in charge at King Power Stadium.
Whereas Chelsea midweek fielded its back-ups for the most part, Everton went with many of its regulars: Jordan Pickford, Ashley Williams, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Tom Davies, and Wayne Rooney all earned starts in the midweek loss at Stamford Bridge. All but Rooney (81 min) played the entire 90. Dominic Calvert-Lewin (26 min) and Oumar Niasse (9 min) came off the bench, while Gylfi Sigurdsson and Michael Keane were rested. Midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin is doubtful due to illness, while Idrissa Gueye’s suspension is over.
Saturday’s first and Monday’s capper are the only two fixtures in which both teams sit in the top half of the table. It’s nowhere near as sexy as Man. Utd. v. Spurs, but don’t dismiss the prospects for a good game from eighth place Burnley and seventh place Newcastle.
The forward spot is up in the air for the home Clarets, as Chris Wood and Sam Vokes are both doubtful. Should either fail to pass fit, Ashley Barnes would likely fill in. Nakhi Wells is another option, but he seems more likely to feature from the bench if available.
For the visiting Magpies, Dwight Gayle is expected to return from injury, but with the game so far away it is difficult to predict if he will be healthy enough to start. If so, he could push for Joselu’s striker spot. Alternately, Rafa Benitez could turn to Aleksandar Mitrovic.
The theme of the week: questions marks up front, with Bournemouth (Defoe/King/Afobe), Brighton (Murray/Hemed), Burnley (Wood/Vokes/Graham), Huddersfield (Mounier/Depoitre), Liverpool (Firmino/Sturridge), Manchester City (Jesus/Aguero), Newcastle (Joselu/Mitrovic/Gayle), Watford (Deeney/Grey) and West Ham (Carroll/Chicharito) facing plenty of uncertainty regarding who will start at forward. Proceed at your own peril!
Which players have you biting your nails as the deadline approaches? How are your teams looking? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to share any late-breaking injury news!