An Italian style derby and a 10-goal punch-up contrived to make a blistering week of football as four bulls locked horns for the opportunity of a Wembley final.
For Manchester United, the Carling Cup is practice. This is not to say that the Red Devils don’t want to win it, but rather that they have more important trophies in mind. Sir Alex Ferguson is well known for fielding so called “weakened teams” in high rounds of the competition, with a faraway look to the Champions League and a closer look at our own domestic one. However, that was certainly not what happened on Tuesday as United were forced into their best available back four with world class defenders Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand still missing in front of a now vulnerable Edwin Van der Sar. Both Ferdinand and Vidic are renowned for being the toughest central defensive pairing in the league, however Wes Brown and Jonathan Evans were unable to replicate their team-mates in what were uninspiring performances throughout the course of the match. Moreover, a disappointing performance from Antonio Valencia made United’s right-flank ineffective as the usually consistently good performer for United – since his move to the club from Wigan – looked out-of-sorts, and was unable to hurt a tidy Manchester City backline.
It is important to state that City were not brilliant in Tuesday’s match-up however, and could have hurt United a lot more had it not been for the cautious approach Roberto Mancini has brought to the table. In fairness to the manager though, a home victory against United got the job done for the first leg and he has every reason to feel good about his side coming back from a goal down. But, this game is far from over. Press, critics and players alike continue to bemoan United’s fortune and all consistently pour doubt over their potential achievements for the season, however, the Red Devil’s are still in this tie, as well as the title race and the Champions League. The second leg of the match-up is going to be held at Old Trafford and even if United were ten minutes late, two men short and a foot smaller, it would still be hard to rule them out. Look at this season, the Red Devils have not looked on top form throughout (with the possible exception of their away trip to Tottenham) and yet they still remain in contention for three trophies and are certainly more than capable of getting them. Old Trafford is a fortress, and City have to show a lot more fight if they expect to hurt their rivals there, which will hopefully make for a mouth-watering tie next Wednesday.
The other Carling Cup semi-final at Villa Park was by contrast end-to-end stuff as a 10-goal haul made for thrilling neutral viewing. A 6-4 win for Aston Villa on the night and a 7-4 victory over Blackburn Rovers on aggregate no doubt made up for their sober 1-0 match-up in the first leg, however, both Sam Allardyce and Martin O’Neill can feel aggrieved about the score-line. Villa were poor defensively at home and conceded too many goals against relegation battlers Blackburn and O’Neill will most certainly not want that to continue, regardless of which team in Manchester his side will face. Whereas Big Sam will be fuming about the penalty and sending off that altered the momentum of the match and broke the possibility of a Blackburn turn-around in the second leg.
With both Carling Cup matches played this week, it is this weekend’s job to hold some thrilling FA Cup games with the fourth round looking to potentially offer more magical upsets to the higher teams. One match that is a must watch is Leeds against Tottenham., the men at White Hart Lane have to be careful, considering Leeds knocked Manchester United out in the last round, and Harry Redknapp will probably field a strong side as he looks to bring some silverware back from Wembley this year. It has to be said that the magic of the Cups are always entertaining, and long may it continue.