The Carabao Cup third round sees the top Premier League teams enter, and Tom Carnduff has two best bets in his outright preview.
Football betting tips: Carabao Cup
1pt e.w. Manchester United to win the Carabao Cup at 16/1 (Betway 1/2 1,2)
1pt e.w. West Ham to win the Carabao Cup at 33/1 (Betway 1/2 1,2)
As is the case with the large majority of football this season, the winter World Cup has played havoc with the domestic schedule and the Carabao Cup is no exception.
England's second cup competition is often viewed as a distraction by many, and its importance has been increasingly called into question given the inflated and more congested calendar.
Qatar 2022 should result in even more rotation than usual in the Carabao Cup, and the timing of the rounds may also give some teams a serious advantage over others.
Here's the pinch point. The World Cup final takes place on Sunday December 18 - the Carabao Cup fourth round is scheduled to be played in the week commencing December 19.
That's right, some teams will be playing domestically just days after the biggest game in football. There is no chance anyone involved in the final in Qatar will be playing in this competition, and you could even say the same for those featuring in the last four because of the third-place play-off.
Of course, while we can make predictions about who we think will win the World Cup, we can't know for sure who will be there, but squads will be considerable weaker if they possess those talented individuals expected to go deep in the tournament.
Due to this scheduling, we could make a strong case that the fourth round is the most pivotal of this season's Carabao Cup. That can help us when it comes to picking out a potential winner.
Schedule not kind to Guardiola's City
As you'd expect, Manchester City are 3/1 favourites across the board. They failed in their quest to yet again win this trophy last season, but we know how vital they see it in their quest for success.
Their squad full of brilliant players, but this is where the problems come in for them this season.
England make the semi-finals? That's John Stones, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and quite possibly according to recent reports Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips all out of fourth-round contention. Spain sees no Aymetic Laporte, Rodri and potentially Sergio Gomez.
Portugal go far and Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva are all missing. This is all hypothetical of course, but it's definitely something we need to factor in if City see off Chelsea - and a potential tough draw on the back of that.
Ultimately, this is a stacked squad that is the envy of world football. They always have talented solutions to problems, but there's little appeal in getting involved at such short prices.
They have the potential to win this, as you'd expect, but looking around the Premier League delivers better value.
Keep focus on Manchester though
While we're not interested in getting involved with City, there is a case to be made for having an each-way play on MANCHESTER UNITED TO WIN THE CARABAO CUP at 16/1.
The Old Trafford club have been without major silverware since winning the Europa League just a few months after clinching this competition under Jose Mourinho in 2016/17. They beat Southampton in the final that year - Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted a brace.
Following a mixed start to the campaign, United have really started to adapt to life under Erik ten Hag's guidance and they have a serious chance of being in the top-four come that World Cup break.
From their perspective, this should be viewed as a very winnable competition. Trophies would have been on ten Hag's itinerary when he took the job and this is the best way to tick that box.
We also know that, from his time at Ajax, the cup competitions weren't viewed as a distraction but an opportunity to keep the winning culture going.
In his four full seasons at the helm, Ajax won the KNVB Cup twice, while also being runners-up and their worst performance being a semi-final exit in 2019/20.
Granted, that tournament is more comparable with the FA Cup but it's a nice tournament to target and the decent rotation options now available to United give them a squad capable of competing.
It feels like one of those players who is a likely starter for this competition is Cristiano Ronaldo, with emphasis likely to be placed more on Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in the Premier League.
While we can question his impact on this side, and whether or not it's a positive, we can be confident that he will bring goals and should have a strong enough of a supporting cast to progress far in this tournament.
We can also be confident that they will have some good options available at the fourth round point, given the expected XI utilised in the Carabao Cup.
Hammers can bring it home
Focusing more on one outsider now, and a team who did well last season but were unlucky to some extent to be eliminated in the quarter-finals.
WEST HAM were the ones to end Manchester City's period of dominance by beating them in the fourth round in 21/22, and it's worth an each-way play on their 33/1 best price to win the competition this time around.
The draw was far from kind to the Hammers last season but they did well to progress as far as they did.
David Moyes' side beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in round three, saw off City on penalties in the fourth round and had more opportunities to score despite a 2-1 defeat to Tottenham in the quarters.
As expected, they rotated in those games too, with the biggest changes coming in the four forward positions. It's fair to say that area of the pitch is much stronger this time around.
West Ham's forward line against City in the fourth round saw an attacking midfield trio of Nikola Vlašić, Manuel Lanzini and Arthur Masuaku, with Andriy Yarmolenko the sole centre forward.
Three of those four aren't playing for the club this season. It means that we're likely to see an improved rotation line of Lucas Paquetá, Maxwel Cornet and Pablo Fornals or Lanzini, with one of Gianluca Scamacca or Michail Antonio leading the line.
Of course, there are also strong options in Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma to play where required, while Emerson can provide a threat further forward alongside an emerging talent in Flynn Downes.
They've seen the much-needed improvement in that area of the pitch and it can pay off in tournaments such as this. They also shouldn't have too many problems with players expected to feature in the latter stages of the World Cup.
It's a team boasting strong underlying defensive numbers, while they have also established themselves as a powerful team on set-piece situations - that applies at both ends of the pitch.
It's a home tie against Sky Bet Championship outfit Blackburn in the third round. Here's hoping that the draw isn't as harsh on them this time around.
ALSO READ: World Cup 2022 | All you need to know
Odds correct at 1145 BST (02/11/22)
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