With Manchester City trailing Liverpool by 14 points in the title race and having been dealt a tricky looking Champions League last-16 tie against Real Madrid, their only real chance of glory this season might be in the domestic cups, starting with a trip to Oxford in the EFL Cup on Wednesday.
Pep Guardiola’s side have made this trophy their own in recent seasons having lifted the League Cup four times in the past six seasons, including both of the last two, and are currently 1.80* favourites to make it a hat trick this time around.
City won all three domestic trophies last season as they completed a unique treble, though this might be where their focus lies this time around as they look to salvage what has been a disappointing campaign so far.
A week ago they were on a run of just two wins in seven, though have improved somewhat to beat Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League and a poor Arsenal side in the Premier League on Sunday.
Of course, while many feel their Premier League race has already been run, Guardiola is unlikely to agree and will no doubt be making changes for the trip to Oxford with a huge weekend clash at home to Leicester to come at the weekend which could all but end their interest in the race for the title.
Teenagers Eric Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Bellis started at Preston and will likely feature again though the more prolific Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden have all started both League Cup ties this season and could likely feature here as City look to claim their first silverware of the year.
Not surprisingly City have a fantastic record in domestic cup competitions against lower-league sides and, unlike some big teams who have gone before them, don’t seem to be susceptible to any banana skins which have been placed in their way.
Since being knocked out of the FA Cup by Wigan Athletic in 2018, City have won all seven of their matches against teams from lower divisions, scoring an incredible 30 goals and conceding just three times in the process.
Preston North End were the latest lower-league casualties as Man City cruised to a 3-0 triumph at Deepdale in the third round, before defeating Southampton to to set up this intriguing contest.
But if there are any weaknesses in this City side then Oxford United will be sure to exploit them, having already dispatched Premier League opposition in this competition by beating West Ham.
The U’s currently sit eighth in the third tier and have failed to score in their last three with manager Karl Robinson suggesting that injuries were beginning to take their toll with top scorer James Henry missing their defeat to MK Dons while midfielder Anthony Forde remains sidelined.
However, that goal scored by Milton Keynes was the first conceded in five games, while the defeat was their first in 19 matches in all competitions.
They’ve only lost once at the Kassam Stadium in the league this season, while their three League Cup ties here have seen Millwall, West Ham and Sunderland defeated.
Even so, anything other than a convincing City win will be seen as something of an upset as the current Champions look to get their season back on track.
But even lifting this trophy at Wembley next month will do little to excite fans of a club who, this time last year, were chasing an unprecedented quadruple and went on to achieve a domestic treble.
*Odds subject to change
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