Manchester City’s dreams of winning an FA Cup and League double ended on Sunday but Roberto Mancini’s men get the chance to bounce back immediately when they face Liverpool in the semi-final of the League Cup on Wednesday.
Whoever comes through that two-legged tie will meet the winners of the all-Championship (second division) semi-final being contested by Cardiff City and Crystal Palace in the final at Wembley on Feb. 26.
City ended a 35-year wait for a trophy when they won the FA Cup last season and, although they fell at the first hurdle when Manchester United beat them 3-2 at the Etihad Stadium, they still remain in the hunt for three trophies.
As well as the League Cup, they remain favourites to win the Premier League title race which they have led since mid-October. Although they are out of the Champions League, the Europa League offers them the realistic chance of a first continental honour since they won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1970.
City defeated Liverpool 3-0 at home in the Premier League last Tuesday and will be seeking a similar scoreline to put them in a commanding position for the second leg at Anfield on Jan. 25.
Mancini is expected to name a strong side but will not know until Tuesday whether influential skipper Vincent Kompany can play following his dismissal against United which City have appealed against to the English FA.
If they lose the appeal, which is likely, Kompany faces a four-match ban.
Despite losing to United, Mancini was upbeat following City’s strong second half fightback, when, with 10 men, they reduced the halftime deficit of 3-0 to 3-2.
Mancini said that although he was disappointed to lose and relinquish the grip on the FA Cup he was delighted they played so well.
“The players showed character and have taken a step forward. I think more than ever that we can go on and win the league,” he said.
“If we show the same attitude and strength in other games that we showed against United with only 10 men then, yes, we can win the league. I said we had to improve and I think we are doing so.”
Liverpool, who have won the League Cup a record seven times, will also be taking Wednesday’s match seriously with Kenny Dalglish expected to take a strong side to Manchester as they seek their first honour since lifting the FA Cup in 2006.
Dalglish became Liverpool’s manager exactly a year ago and Ian Rush, the club’s record all-time scorer, said on Monday he thought the team had improved beyond recognition under the Scot’s influence in the last 12 months.
“If you look at Liverpool Football Club when Kenny took over compared to where it is now, there’s a massive difference,” he told the club’s website (www.liverpoolfc.tv) on Monday.
“With Kenny it’s all about the club. You win nothing as individuals, it’s all about the team. The squad is so much stronger than it was a year ago. The expectations are very high and that can take some getting used to...over the past year there’s been real progress. We have become a force again.”
Crystal Palace, who caused one of the upsets of the season when they won 2-1 at Manchester United in the quarter-finals, host Cardiff in the first leg of their semi-final at Selhurst Park on Tuesday with their young side growing in confidence under impressive young coach Dougie Freedman.
Cardiff, who were beaten finalists in the FA Cup final in 2008 and have challenged for promotion to the Premier League for the last three seasons, start as slight favourites.
But the tie, like the City-Liverpool clash, is finely balanced and could go either way after the second leg in Cardiff on Jan. 24.
Like City, both Cardiff and Palace were knocked out of the FA Cup at the weekend and so have an immediate chance of redemption.