Manchester City kick off their 2018/2019 domestic cup campaign on Tuesday night with a trip to League One outfit Oxford United.
Last season was one to remember for City as far as the Carabao Cup goes, as they eased their way to their third League Cup triumph in five seasons, beating Arsenal in the final in February.
Pep Guardiola is often quoted as not caring too much about this competition, but a loss to Oxford United would get people talking for the wrong reasons and realistically he will know that even a second string City side should ease past The U’s.
However, it isn’t always plain sailing. As many will remember (or for City fans, try to forget), League One opposition Wigan Athletic were one of the few teams to defeat Guardiola’s record breaking side last season. Despite being in a different domestic competition, City will be hoping to avoid such a scalp again.
To the majority of the City fan base, Oxford United will be an unknown quantity, so let’s take a look Inside the Opposition…
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT OXFORD UNITED
Oxford United play their football at the Kassam Stadium, named after the ground’s owner and chairman of the club, Firoz Kassam. The stadium holds a capacity of 12,500, and City have sold out their allocation of 1,197 tickets.
It has been a poor start to the season for Karl Robinson’s men, who sit 23rd in the table with just one win from the opening nine fixtures. Oxford United have been leaking goals, conceding 19 thus far – only Rochdale have a worse defensive record in the division.
In history, there have only been 13 competitive meeting between the two sides, last of which was in March 1998, which saw the U’s defeat City 2-0 at Maine Road. The last victory for City was in February 1997, where the Blues won 4-1, with a brace from Georgi Kinkladze adding to an own goal and a strike from Uwe Rosler.
Manager Karl Robinson had a playing career majorly in the non-league, with a couple of sides in proximity of Manchester such as Warrington Town and Alsager Town. In management, he had a positive six-year tenure at MK Dons, where he won promotion to the Championship. Perhaps memorably for City fans, Robinson was the man in charge when MK Dons beat Manchester United 4-0 in the EFL cup. He has experience of early-round giant killings, so City will have to be careful.
TEAM NEWS AND PREDICTED XI
Robinson’s men are very thin on players and have been hit with an injury crisis in the early weeks of the season. In fact, in the home loss against Walsall this weekend, Oxford only named six substitutes.
Marcus Browne (knee) is out for 3 weeks. Youngster Fabio Lopes (knee) is also in a treatment room which includes the likes of Rob Hall, Simon Eastwood and Samir Carruthers.
Jamie Mackie, who City fans will remember for his goal to put QPR ahead on the day City won the title in 2012, is also out for this one with a hip injury.
So, who do Oxford United have that isn’t walking wounded?
John Mousinho, at 32, is one of the more experienced heads in the Oxford United side. Signing for the U’s in 2017, Mousinho has 13 seasons of experience in the football league, playing for teams such as Brentford and Wycombe, as well as making 121 appearances for Burton Albion.
Oxford have highly rated Everton loanee Luke Garbutt, as well as ex-Liverpool man Cameron Brannagan, potentially due to the Merseyside connections Liverpool-born boss Robinson has.
Experienced winger Ricky Holmes is one of Oxford’s biggest talents. Expect the Sheffield United loanee to start along with Northern Irish forward Gavin Whyte, who has three goals this season so far.
Leading the line will likely be Jonathan Obika. The 28-year-old striker may fall into the ‘journeyman’ category, managing eleven loans from Tottenham over a six year period where he made zero first team appearances for the North London club.
VIEW FROM THE OPPOSITION
It has been a very poor start to the season for Oxford United, with just one win in the opening nine, do you think Oxford can stay up in League One or are they doomed this season?
It’s Oxford’s worst start for 18 years and there are concerns over results, but I think it’s too early to write the season off as a disaster.
They have suffered badly with injuries and the situation should begin to ease in the next two or three weeks. With the table as it stands a couple of wins would see them up in mid-table, so it’s premature to say they’re doomed.
Drawing the Premier League champions in the cup is a glamour tie for the supporters. What will the visit of City do for the club? Should we expect fans to ‘come out of nowhere’ so to speak and create an atmosphere at the Kassam Stadium?
There’s no doubt there was excitement when the draw was made and that followed through to ticket sales. It will be the first sell-out at the ground since January 2017, when Newcastle United were beaten 3-0 in the FA Cup.
While there are fundamental issues with the ground, when it’s full it can still generate a good atmosphere.
You will be well aware that League One club Wigan knocked out City of the FA Cup last year. This is a different competition of course but will Oxford take inspiration from Wigan last season and feel they really do have a chance?
I would be surprised if they didn’t look to that and take heart, especially those who have been at the club for a while and played with Chey Dunkley, who was part of the Wigan team last season.
The only caveat with that would be to say while they’re in the same division as Wigan, that was one of the most talented sides League One had seen for many years. Oxford, who lost 7-0 to the Latics last December, are nowhere near that level at this moment.
From the outset or neutral, what do you think of Pep Guardiola’s City side? Is there a City player who will scare Oxford players the most, or maybe the player that fans pay the money to watch live next Tuesday?
I think everyone connected with Oxford will see this game as a free-hit. There will be no expectations and while supporters will want to see a contest, many will be hoping City bring as strong a side as possible – it’s 15 years since they played a really big Premier League team, when they were drawn at Arsenal in the FA Cup.
As for the players, I can’t imagine they would single a player out to be particularly worried about. City could make 11 changes and it would still be a team of top class players.
If there was one player for Oxford that could cause Guardiola’s team any problems, who would it be?
Probably Gavin Whyte. The pacy 22-year-old winger was playing part-time football in Northern Ireland until he signed for United this summer, but has handled the step-up really well. He scored with his first touch in international football earlier this month and there is a feeling he’s destined to play at a higher level, so this will be an interesting test to see his level.
Finally – predictions? Do Oxford have any chance at all or is it too big of an ask?
Of course there’s a chance, although you can get odds of 28/1 on an Oxford win so it’s obviously a very slim one. Realistically they would need to have an unbelievable night while City had a stinker, but it’s not impossible.