Improbably kept apart in the English League Cup quarter-finals draw, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur will have their eyes on the last four when the tournament resumes this week.
Today, Man City are to visit Leicester City, with Chelsea to travel to Sunderland, while tomorrow’s fixtures are to see United go to Stoke City and Tottenham host London rivals West Ham United.
The clashes have raised the prospect of four of the country’s biggest sides convening in the semi-finals next month, ahead of the season’s first major final at Wembley Stadium in March.
United returned to their winning ways in the Premier League after consecutive home defeats by winning 3-0 at Aston Villa on Sunday and manager David Moyes knows success in the League Cup would buy him breathing space after a difficult start to his Old Trafford tenure.
United beat Stoke 3-2 when the sides met in October, and have won four and drawn one of their five games at the Britannia Stadium since the Potters were promoted to the Premier League in 2008.
Tom Cleverley scored his first goal for exactly a year at Villa Park and has challenged his teammates to put their poor early-season form behind them.
“I think I played quite well and kept the ball and kept us ticking at a high tempo,” the England midfielder told Sky Sports. “I want to kick on from here now and so does the team. Hopefully, this is the start of a good run.”
Chelsea labored during their 2-1 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday, but the victory means that they can move to the top of the table if they win at leaders Arsenal on Monday next week.
The League Cup has particular significance for Jose Mourinho, as it was the first trophy he won during his first spell as Chelsea manager in 2005.
The Portuguese has confirmed that he will rest club captain John Terry for the trip to Sunderland, while Ashley Cole is expected to return to the side in place of Cesar Azpilicueta.
“It’s great to be in the position we’re in,” said Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, whose side won 2-0 at Arsenal in the fourth round. “We topped the group in the Champions League, we’re two points off the Premier League leaders and we can be in the semi-final of a domestic cup if we win on Tuesday [today].”
Man City illustrated their title credentials by overwhelming Arsenal 6-3 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday and in Leicester they face the only non-Premier League side left in the competition.
Fernandinho, who scored his first two City goals since signing from Shakhtar Donetsk against Arsenal, said that confidence at the club is now sky-high.
“We showed we are a great team, a very good team,” the Brazilian said. “We showed we can beat any team. We showed very good football. The performance was incredible.”
Tottenham will be out for revenge against West Ham, who stunned Spurs 3-0 when they visited White Hart Lane in October.
Spurs will also be looking for redemption after crashing 5-0 to Liverpool on Sunday, a loss that led to the sacking of manager Andre Villas-Boas and which came less than a month after they suffered a 6-0 defeat at Manchester City.