De Bruyne still struggling to find top form
These were normally the types of games which would have seen a player of Kevin De Bruyne’s stature rotated for a rest by Pep Guardiola, but the Belgian was given a run out from the start at the London Stadium in a bid to get some more minutes in his legs in a bid to return him to his best.
De Bruyne has looked a little laboured at times this season, and struggled to really impose himself on Wednesday night in the goalless draw, despite being up against a largely second-string West Ham defence. He was eventually brought off late on before City eventually crashed out on penalties.
There were a couple of trademark De Bruyne moments scattered throughout his performance, a lovely pass through to Sterling at one stage proved the eye is there, he just needs to find some level of consistency again. And it remains to be seen whether he will keep his place in the starting XI for Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday.
“Kevin came back from important injuries in the last part of the season and he was so important against Liverpool, Chelsea and Brugge,” said Guardiola of his talismanic playmaker. “He was there as always. Day by day he will get his best form.”
If City are to continue keeping pace with Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League and have another real swing at winning their first Champions League title, they will need De Bruyne to find that top form sooner rather than later.
“It’s always nice to play, it’s been a while,” was the verdict of man of the match Eddie Nketiah after his goal helped Arsenal past Leeds and into the Carabao Cup quarter-finals.
It was just the striker’s second start of the season, but any lack of match practise wasn’t evident as Nketiah impressed leading the line against Marcelo Bielsa’s side, who he spent half a season on loan with the club back in the 2019/2020 season.
He wasn’t the only one of Arsenal’s fringe players to impress. Bernd Leno, who has lost his place in Arsenal’s Premier League side to Aaron Ramsdale, looked sharp, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles showed what he can do in the middle of the park in the absence of Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka and Albert Sambi Lokonga.
A lack of European football this season has really hampered Mikel Arteta’s ability to give his squad players game time, but their run to the quarter-finals of the League Cup has served as useful tool for the likes of Nketiah, Maitland-Niles, Leno, Calum Chambers and others, something the Gunners boss acknowledges.
“It opens up more space to give opportunities for the group and obviously is a trophy we want to compete for — that’s the whole point of it,” said Arteta.
“It is great to see the players that we have get opportunities, the way they played, the way they competed against a really good side.”
Arsenal’s victory over Leeds was impressive, especially after the nine changes Arteta made following his side’s 3-1 win against Aston Villa last Friday. It showed a squad depth that has at times been lacking at the Emirates Stadium in recent years.
And although the games are not coming as thick and fast as they normally do for Arsenal, that strength in depth could turn out to be immensely valuable to Arteta for what will still be a long season.
Nuno smiled when he was told in his post-match press conference Manchester City had been knocked out by West Ham. It was probably the reaction of most managers still left in the competition when they found out that, for the first time in five years, Pep Guardiola’s side had been defeated.
But for Tottenham, given their start to the Premier League season and the somewhat state of flux they find themselves in at the moment in terms of their squad, this competition could be a prize worth prioritising. Especially with Carabao Cup specialists City out of the frame.
Spurs were far from brilliant at Burnley. It took them over an hour to have a shot on target, with questions about their creativity under Nuno not answered, despite Lucas Moura’s forceful header to win it. But Spurs did show fight and resistance to keep their hosts out during a late aerial bombardment and the win was a welcome fillip after Sunday’s defeat to rivals West Ham.
By the time the quarter-finals come round in December, Nuno will have hoped to have taken strides with the squad; to have found a way to combine the fighting qualities they showed at Turf Moor with more style in possession. He’ll hope to have Harry Kane firing again by then too, after the captain on the night again looked some way below his best.
It’s a long way from a windy night at Turf Moor in October to a Wembley cup final in February but Spurs are in the hat and in contention.
Jurgen Klopp waited 10 minutes in the second half at Deepdale when the Liverpool boss decided to make a tactical alteration. His much-changed side had been pedestrian at best against Preston when right-back Conor Bradley was summoned from the bench.
Klopp had seen an opportunity to get Neco Williams further forward, and the Wales international showed his versatility to turn a potentially awkward evening into serene progression for Liverpool into the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup.
Williams was instrumental in both of Liverpool’s goals, crossing for Takumi Minamino’s volleyed opener before his deflected strike set up Divock Origi. The 20-year-old might have capped a perfect evening with a goal himself only to be thwarted late on by Declan Rudd.
Illness and an ankle injury have limited Williams to just four appearances for club and country, but having grasped his opportunity to impress on a filthy night in Lancashire, more will certainly now be forthcoming.
He had already taken a ball to the face to keep Liverpool level in the opening period, showing his positional awareness to get back on the line to get in the way of Ryan Ledson’s effort during that flurry of goalmouth activity which Preston will rue as they return to the bread and butter of the Championship.
The result means Liverpool have progressed from 17 of their last 18 League Cup ties against sides from a lower division, and while Klopp is likely to provide Tyler Morton and Harvey Blair further opportunities whoever his side draw in the last eight, Williams’ standout display has put him in contention for more regular Premier League minutes.
Leicester required a penalty shootout to overcome Brighton but not before Harvey Barnes and Patson Daka had shown Brendan Rodgers they deserve to feature more regularly.
Barnes had not even made it off the bench in Leicester’s last three games against Manchester United, Spartak Moscow and Brentford following a subdued start to the campaign.
But the 23-year-old looked back to his best at the King Power Stadium, giving Leicester an early lead when he pounced on Jason Steele’s loose pass and crashed an emphatic finish into the corner.
Barnes continued to cause the visitors problems throughout, going close to scoring a second when he was brilliantly denied by Steele in the second half then holding his nerve to convert his spot-kick in the shootout.
Daka stepped up and scored in the shootout too and while Barnes will hope this is the start of an upturn in form for him, for Daka it was merely a continuation of what came before it.
The Zambian scored all four goals in Leicester’s recent Europa League win over Spartak Moscow and while he did not find the net in normal time here, he was involved in more or less every Leicester attack.
Indeed, it was his pressing that forced the error for Leicester’s opening goal as he rushed Shane Duffy into his backpass, and Brighton never really got to grips with his pace from then on.
Having come off the bench to set up James Maddison’s winner against Brentford on Sunday, perhaps a starting spot against Arsenal on Saturday is now within his reach.
Saul Niguez made 41 appearances for Atletico Madrid in all competitions last season, and also started their first two La Liga games of this campaign.
Chances are, when switching to Chelsea on loan, he didn’t plan on it being a move that would see him being used as a bit-part cup player, but this is where he now finds himself – almost a forgotten man already behind the likes of Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, N’Golo Kante and even Ruben Loftus-Cheek now in the list of choices available to Thomas Tuchel.
So poor was his performance on his Premier League debut against Aston Villa that he has not been seen in that competition since. This was just his second start since and both have been somewhat underwhelming Carabao Cup appearances – his only other a cameo in Chelsea’s Champions League thrashing of Malmo.
On the evidence of Tuesday night, he has a while to go to convince his new boss he is up to speed and worthy of regular selection in other competitions.