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Pep's City will have too much quality for Solskjaer's inconsistent youngsters

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Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola

REUTERS

Pep Guardiola

Liverpool put Manchester City on the ropes in the first half of this season and now the moment has come for them to deliver some knockout blows of their own.

Pep Guardiola's City dominated English football last season and whatever you might think of the way the club has attained its success over the last few years, they did magnificently well to win all three domestic trophies.

Aside from winning the Champions League, the only way was down from there. And Liverpool's insane form throughout 2019 has been too much for City, as they look to be out of the race to retain the Premier League title.

I'm an eternal pessimist when it comes to Liverpool, but even I would suggest City will be struggling to close a 14-point gap on a side that also has a game in hand on them and don't look like losing a game any time soon.

Yet this season is far from lost for City and I'm sure Guardiola will have been reminding his players of that in the last few days.

They now have to focus all their efforts on cup competitions and after making progress in the FA Cup on Saturday against Port Vale after resting a lot of his big-hitters, he will get them all back on the team-sheet for the Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester United tonight.

It was more than a little embarrassing for the image of this competition that a Liverpool junior team was played in the quarter-finals at Aston Villa, with the 5-0 defeat inflicted on them making Everton's performance against many of the same young players in last Sunday's FA Cup tie at Anfield all the more embarrassing for the blue half of Merseyside.

Despite that, I would never belittle this competition as I've very proud of the winners' medal I collected in the League Cup in 1986, and 14 years later I walked out at Wembley alongside Leicester manager Martin O'Neill after leading Tranmere to the final.

City tragically tried to pretend that winning the Community Shield meant they had won a quadruple last season, yet all football fans appreciate that there are only three trophies worth winning in English football every year - and the first of those is handed out in the League Cup final next month.

If City were to win the competition again and maybe add the FA Cup to their collection in a season that sees them finishing second in the Premier League, it would be hard to describe that as failure for a club that has not won too much over the course of its history.

This game is all about trophies and the best managers win them with teams that are not firing on all cylinders, so Guardiola will know he can still claim something from a season that has seen him forced to look up at a team pulling away at the top the Premier League standings.

Of course, the big one Pep will want is the Champions League, but City tend to bottle the biggest competition of them all when the pressure is applied. I would expect them to come up short once again, given the defensive problems they have had all season.

So tonight's semi-final is massive for the Carabao Cup holders and the fact that they are up against local rivals United adds additional spice to this game.

City have had the bragging right in Manchester for a long time now and if they were to lose this Carabao Cup clash against United over two legs, the red half of Manchester would have something to sing about once again.

United's impressive performance as they beat City at the Etihad Stadium last month provided evidence that a forward line led by Marcus Rashford can give Guardiola's creaking defensive line some problems.

The problem for United has to be that they lack the consistency required to beat teams as good as City, with their fleeting high points this season followed in double quick time by some huge lows.

This tends to be a problem when you put so much faith in youthful, inexperienced performers, but that's the way the club have decided to go under their latest manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

I remain convinced that United have the wrong guy running their team and at some point in 2020, I'm sure they will make a change and get in a manager who will have a better chance to take them to the next level.

Solskjaer has a chance in this clash against City to silence his critics and if he can beat City over two legs and win the League Cup on March 1, he will probably buy himself a little more time in his bid to turn the United ship back in the right direction.

However, I don't see it happening, as the fact that this is a two-leg semi-final plays into City's hands as they have enough quality to come through over the extended format.

United would fancy their chances if this was a one-off game at Old Trafford, but this game now matters too much for Guardiola and City and that's why I feel they will get the job done.