We saw what Manchester City’s second unit is capable of doing to a Championship side when Pep Guardiola‘s men deconstructed Rotherham United to the tune of 7-0 in the FA Cup third round on Saturday.
[ RECAP: Spurs 1-0 Chelsea ]
So what can City do to a mid-table side from League One? And how unthinkable an upset is a Burton Albion victory, especially since manager Nigel Clough was “staggered” by reaching the semi via a defeat of Middlesbrough?
Well, let’s think on it.
Burton Albion’s only defeat of a Premier League team this season is a 2-1 take down of visiting Burnley, and all five of their League Cup wins have come by single goals.
And while City may have lost to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup last season, that was not in a round on the precipice of a final.
Clough, no stranger to the upper reaches of competition, puts its plainly. From The Telegraph:
“It’s almost a bye to the final for City. I don’t think we can go into it thinking we’ve got a fighting chance of winning it,” he says, deadly serious. “If we beat them over two legs, it will be the biggest shock of all time. I don’t know what Pep’s thinking will be but I would imagine it will be to make the second leg irrelevant. But we’ve got to try and do the opposite to that and try to retain a glimmer of hope.”
What is Pep thinking, then (Let’s keep up the thinking theme)?
“Winning is important,” he said. “The Carabao Cup is the more local competition. Everybody is happy to win and nobody is sad if they go out in the competition. We are here in the semi-final and we want to win.”
Burton beating Man City over two legs would be on par with Leicester City winning the Premier League. Is that too bold to say?
Burton Albion has never finished higher than 20th in the Championship, so getting to the League Cup semifinals followed a 1-0 defeat of Middlesbrough is pretty darn sweet to manager Nigel Clough and his men.
The Brewers were relegated to League One last season, finishing 23rd in the 24-team Championship.
[ MORE: Leicester 1-1 (1-3 pens) Man City]
Now, manager Nigel Clough has the club within a win of the League Cup Final. It’s their best major cup performance in a 68-year history.
“The scale of the achievement is absolutely staggering – for Burton Albion to get to the semi-final of a major cup competition. It’s very difficult to describe the feeling at this point.”
Sure the luck of the draw is involved — Burton has only drawn one Premier League team, and it was Burnley — but winning five cup matches is winning five cup matches.
Clough, the son of legendary manager Brian Clough, also sung the praises of Southampton loanee Jake Hesketh. The 22-year-old won the match with the game’s loan goal.
“We got the goal through Jake Hesketh. The most impressive thing was to win the tackle on the edge of the box and he was one of the few players tonight not to hit his shot over the bar, We bang on in training about hitting the bottom corners and he did.”
Whether or not Burton can hang with Premier League opposition in the final, this is a pretty monumental moment for the Brewers. Sitting 15th in league play, it will likely be the most memorable moment of the season.
The weekend’s been full of FA Cup Fourth Round action, but there’s been surprisingly little giant-killing this time around. Nine Premier League sides have made it through to the final 16, where they’ve been joined by four Championship clubs. Two more teams will be added to the list today, with the final slot decided after a replay between Nottingham Forest and Preston North End.
(READ MORE: FA CUP RESULTS FROM FRIDAY AND SATURDAY)
Along with Preston, there’s just one other League One side that still has a chance to make it to the next round. Sheffield United host Fulham at 8 a.m. ET on Sunday, with Nigel Clough hoping his side might be lifted by a surprise victory against the Premier League club. The Blades aren’t having an easy time of it in the league, where they’re trying to avoid being dropped to League 2. But the hosts did manage to beat Aston Villa at Villa Park at the beginning of the month, so they’re hoping to take advantage of another struggling side in Fulham. The visitors have pulled themselves out of the relegation zone but are hanging on by just a point, and might be a bit weary after beating Norwich 3-0 in a replay before losing 2-0 to Arsenal last week.
The final match of this round (excluding replays) sees Stoke visiting Stamford Bridge at 10:30 a.m. ET. The Potters, who faced Leicester City last time out, had some worse luck this time, drawing away at third-place Chelsea. But it’s ok: Fernando Torres is out with injury, so that’s one goalscoring threat gone, plus Stoke could see the return of goalkeeper Asmir Begović, who’s sure to help them keep the score respectable. Unfortunately for the visitors, José Mourinho will see no need to rest players for the league match midweek, as that’s against West Ham.