Neatly sandwiched between all the festive games in England are the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup. Four of the usual Big Six in the Premier League are in action, with Arsenal losing to Manchester City, while Brentford beat Newcastle United on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Carlo Ancelotti's Everton will look to continue their gradual rise with a victory over resurgent Manchester United and Jose Mourinho's Tottenham Hotspur travel to Stoke. Here's our preview of the quarterfinals.
Stoke City vs. Tottenham Hotspur, Wednesday at 12.30 p.m. ET, live on ESPN+
Could this finally be the match where we see the real Gareth Bale? Bale's loan return to Tottenham from Real Madrid this summer was greeted with monumental fanfare, but he's still finding his feet and was attempting to fill a number of roles across the front line when he came on at half-time in their 2-0 defeat to Leicester on Sunday.
Bale should start, but it will be fascinating to see what manager Jose Mourinho does elsewhere. Dele Alli's future is uncertain and, despite failing to make the bench vs. Leicester even with nine subs allowed, the midfielder may get a chance to stake his claim against Stoke, while other players who could also feature include Harry Winks, loan striker Carlos Vinicius, defender Joe Rodon and backup goalkeeper Joe Hart. Mourinho has favoured a fairly settled lineup this season, but this is a chance for those on the fringes to stake their claim.
Stoke sit in seventh in the Championship but, while Michael O'Neill is doing a superb job at the bet365 Stadium, they have a real issue in goal with Joe Bursik cup-tied and Adam Davies, Angus Gunn, Niki Maenpaa and Nathan Broome all injured. It'll either be veteran free signing Andy Lonergan, who is 37, or 19-year-old debutant Blondy Nna Noukeu who starts against Spurs, but the club have a remarkable record of keeping clean sheets this year, with 23 in 46 games.
Stoke are also weathering the blow of having star striker Tyrese Campbell potentially out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. He joins a lengthy injury list, but O'Neill took heart from seeing Joe Allen back in training, while former Chelsea star John Obi Mikel is also close to returning. Both are unlikely to feature, but given Stoke's long list of absentees, if they manage to beat Spurs it'll be some feat.
Everton vs. Manchester United, Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET, live on ESPN+
When Carlo Ancelotti took over from Marco Silva at Everton nearly a year ago, they were in the relegation zone. Now they are title challengers with eight wins from 14 games, five points off top spot. He's got striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin performing to his best -- someone he sees as Everton's version of the great Filippo Inzaghi -- while his summer signings Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure, James Rodriguez and Ben Godfrey have all settled into life at Goodison Park nicely. Rodriguez is set to feature against United after recovering from injury and the team will be under no illusions to what this game means to Ancelotti.
The Italian is overdue some silverware; his last major title came when he won the Bundesliga at Bayern Munich in April 2017. But with 20 major titles as a manager, winning courses through his veins and he knows what it takes to succeed. In this unlikely marriage, Everton are also hoping to end a trophy drought: it's been 25 long years since they won the 1995 FA Cup ... against Man United.
Meanwhile, United head to Goodison Park off the back of a remarkable 6-2 win over Leeds on Sunday, a match that included 43 shots on goal. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have been unpredictable this season but sit third in the Premier League and will fancy their chances against Everton, having won 3-1 in the league back in November.
This match falls in the middle of a potentially season-defining run for United with Leicester, Wolves and Aston Villa all lying in wait, but Solskjaer will still field a strong team for Wednesday. Dean Henderson may get another start in goal, while the likes of Edinson Cavani, Paul Pogba, Brandon Williams, Alex Telles, Mason Greenwood and Donny van de Beek should feature.