Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the EFL Cup
fourth-round tie between Manchester City
at the Etihad Stadium. The Citizens continue the defence of their cup with this visit of the out-of-form Cottagers, who have conceded 15 goals in their last four matches - all ending in defeat - and were beaten here by three clear goals less than two months ago.
City have won this competition three times in the last five seasons and head into this match on the back of an eight-game unbeaten run - no wonder they are considered strong favourites to progress through. Due to the tragic events that unfolded outside the King Power Stadium last week, the tie between Leicester City and Southampton has been pushed back to an as of yet unconfirmed date, though we do know that the winners of that match will face either the Citizens or the Cottagers in round five.
MANCHESTER CITY TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Muric; Danilo, Kompany, Stones, Zinchenko; Delph, Foden, De Bruyne, Brahim, Jesus, Sane
SUBS: Ederson, Walker, Sterling, Aguero, Bernardo, Mahrez, Gomes
Starting with a look at the home team, Pep Guardiola
has made 10 changes to the side that beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 on Monday night. John Stones is the only player to retain his place in the side, linking up with returning skipper Vincent Kompany in the heart of defence. Nicolas Otamendi had been expected to start this evening's cup tie, but he is not included in the matchday squad.
Danilo is among those to return to the side following his return from a month-long layoff, coming in for just his second club appearance of the campaign - the other being in the 3-0 win over Oxford United in the last round. Phil Foden was among the scorers that night, getting off the mark in terms of his goal account for the Citizens, and the highly-rated youngster slots into a three-man midfield tonight alongside Fabian Delph and Kevin De Bruyne.
De Bruyne is still working his way back to peak fitness, explaining why he was left out of the starting lineup against Tottenham earlier this week, and he was always likely to come in from the off here. Young goalkeeper Aro Muric comes in for his first start at the Etihad Stadium, meanwhile, with Claudio Bravo injured and Ederson rested, and there is also a second start in succession in this competition for Oleksandr Zinchenko at left-back, meaning Delph slots into a midfield three.
FULHAM TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Rico; Fosu-Mensah, Odoi, Ream, Sessegnon; Anguissa, Cairney, Seri; Vietto, Mitrovic, Schurrle
SUBS: Fabri, Christie, Mawson, S. Sessegnon, Le Marchand, De la Torre, Ayite
Switching attention to the visitors, and under-fire boss Slavisa Jokanovic
has named what I would consider to be his strongest possible XI. Tom Cairney returns as one of three changes from the 3-0 home loss to Bournemouth last weekend, taking over from the suspended Kevin McDonald, while Andre-Frank Anguissa and Luciano Vietto come in for Maxime Le Marchand and Aboubakar Kamara respectively.
Sergio Rico made his Premier League debut in that heavy loss to Bournemouth, having previously relied on the EFL Cup for his appearances, and the Spanish goalkeeper is used from the off once again today. Sitting in front of Rico is an unchanged back four of Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Denis Odoi, Tim Ream and Ryan Sessegnon, and they will need to perform a lot better than they have in recent weeks if they are to keep the scoring down.
Fulham may be languishing in the lower reaches of the division, but their attack like looks more suited to a side competing for a place in the top six. Aleksandar Mitrovic
has performed well since turning his loan move into a permanent switch during the summer, while Andre Schurrle has showed the odd glimpse of what he is capable of; now those two, plus Vietto, are tasked with breaching a defence that does not tend to concede goals.
John Stones is the only survivor from Manchester City's 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at the start of the week, partnering returning skipper Vincent Kompany in the heart of a back four that has kept seven clean sheets in eight matches. The defence looks a lot different tonight than it usually does, though, and against a Fulham team that appears stronger on paper tonight than it did five days ago, a tighter game than many previously predicted can be expected.
The Citizens have won the EFL Cup three times in the last five seasons, most recently triumphing in February with a 3-0 win over Arsenal in the final. This competition may be at the bottom of the list of their priorities, with the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup all trumping it, but it is a trophy nonetheless and Guardiola has talked up its importance in the past.
City cruised to a 3-0 win over Oxford United in the last round thanks to goals from Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden, making it seven victories in a row in this competition since a 1-0 loss at the hands of Manchester United at this stage two years ago. Guardiola's men were comfortably winners at the Kassam Stadium to keep their momentum going, which has seen them win seven and draw one of their last eight matches.
It is just one loss in 13 games this season, meanwhile, beginning with a straightforward 2-0 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield and culminating in that 1-0 triumph over Tottenham at Wembley Stadium three days ago. City were not exactly at their best against Spurs, but they got the job done thanks to an early goal from Riyad Mahrez to climb back to the top of the Premier League.
City are top of the table having already travelled to Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham in the first few months of the season. It is pretty ominous for their title rivals, and even at this early stage it looks as though Guardiola's men are once again going to take some stopping this term. Last season saw the Citizens break all sorts of records in winning the title, including the most points ever accrued, but Guardiola has stressed that he is not expecting his side to be as dominant this time around.
You cannot exactly blame Guardiola for wanting to play down expectations, particularly on the back of what was a truly special campaign, but the bottom line is that the Citizens have to retain their top-flight crown if they are to be considered the Premier League's greatest ever side, as so many people have labelled them. Others believe that winning the Champions League is a better barometer of just how good they are, with the EFL Cup and FA Cup merely an afterthought.
Since losing 2-1 to Lyon on September 19, at a time when some felt the Citizens were still struggling to click into gear, the English champions have won seven and drawn one in all competitions, scoring 21 goals and conceding just once during that sequence. That defensive record in particular is pretty staggering, having kept seven clean sheets in their last eight matches. Guardiola really has put together a side that perfectly combines attack with defence.
This is the first of four successive home matches for Man City, who play five times in the space of 13 days. Having already seen off Tottenham this week through Mahrez's goal, the Citizens now welcome Fulham in the EFL Cup, Southampton and Manchester United in the Premier League, as well as Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. All going to plan, Guardiola's side will be through to the last eight of the domestic cup and the last 16 of the European Cup by the start of next month.
DID YOU KNOW? The EFL Cup winners have been knocked out of the following season's competition at this fourth-round stage in three of the last four seasons. Manchester City were dumped out as holders in 2014 and 2016, while Chelsea fell early on in 2015-16.
Furthermore, City have failed to score in this round of the EFL Cup in both of their previous attempts under Guardiola, losing 1-0 to Man United in 2016 and drawing 0-0 with Wolverhampton Wanderers after extra time just over 12 months ago. City overcome Wolves on pens, before doing likewise against Leicester City in the following round en route to lifting a trophy that they pretty much made their own in recent times.
Manchester City beat Oxford United 3-0 at the Kassam Stadium in round three to make it seven wins in a row in the EFL Cup, including after extra time and penalties, since losing 1-0 to Manchester United at this stage two years ago. The Citizens are seeking a fourth triumph in six seasons in terms of going all the way, setting them up nicely for their assault of the Champions League and Premier League.
Fulham have made a terrible start to their Premier League return, finding themselves down in 18th place with more than a quarter of the season played. That is despite a summer outlay of more than £100m on what was effectively a whole new squad of players, with the likes of Sarri, Schurrle, Mawson and Anguissa, among others, not yet having the desired effect - collectively, at least, as the Cottagers are not playing like a team.
Fulham have won one of their opening 10 games, a 4-2 home win over Burnley in the first month of the season, and have since added just a couple more points to their tally. The visitors are on a run of four successive losses ahead of this tricky cup tie, meanwhile, conceding 15 goals in that time to leave them on course for a Premier League record in terms of goals shipped over the course of a whole season.
Fulham have already comes through a couple of rounds in the EFL Cup, beating Exeter 2-0 at Craven Cottage in August - Aboubakar Kamara netting a couple of goals that night - before overcoming Millwall 3-1 at The Den in September. Joe Bryan, ruled out tonight through injury, Luca de la Torre and Cyrus Christie all registered in South London, but since then Fulham have lost all four of their matches.
Next up for Fulham in the Premier League is a trip to bottom of the table Huddersfield Town - lose than and Jokanovic, despite public support from the club's owners, may well be out of a job. This trip to the Etihad Stadium may well be considered a free hit of sorts, then, unless the Londoners are once again battered, in which case drastic action may well be required before that truly huge trip to the John Smith's Stadium on Monday.
Fulham also have trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge on the horizon, either side of a home match against Southampton, so it could easily get worse before it gets better for Jokanovic's men. The key now is to find a settled XI, hoping that the batch of summer signings adapt to the manager's way of playing before it is too late. For now, though, all focus is on progressing through to the last eight of the EFL Cup.
Fulham are competing in the fourth round of the competition for the first time since 2014-15, when losing 5-2 to Derby County at Craven Cottage. A good omen for the visitors is that they have won all three of their previous EFL Cup away games under Jokanovic, albeit against weaker opposition in Leyton Orient, Wycombe Wanderers and Millwall, and they beat Tottenham 3-1 in 1999 on the most recent occasion that they faced the reigning holders.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS! Manchester City have won their last six encounters with Fulham, all coming in the Premier League, including a 3-0 success when the sides faced off here in September - Sane, David Silva and Sterling all netting that afternoon. Their last EFL Cup clash, meanwhile, saw the Citizens come out on top 2-1 here in September 2009 through extra-time goals from Gareth Barry and Kolo Toure.
With kickoff at the Etihad Stadium now a little under five minutes away, let us check out some pre-match thoughts from both camps.
Pep Guardiola: "I still feel we have a lot to improve. In the big events, especially in the Champions League, we need to be more clinical in this situation because sooner or later we are not going to win. In the second half [against Tottenham Hotspur] we should have the game over and that is the problem we have."
Slavisa Jokanovic: "This game has arrived at a good time for us. We can improve our process, ahead of an important challenge on Monday night. We're approaching this in a positive mood. We must be ready for the fight. We are not so satisfied with our start in the Premier League, and this game can give us an opportunity to find a better mood and find a better way to play football."
Guardiola believes that his side 'can still improve', and that was also the message he sent out after coasting to a 3-0 win against Fulham in their league clash a couple of months back. The Catalan coach is very much a perfectionist, so anything other than another comfortable win tonight and he will no doubt raise a few issues. Jokanovic, meanwhile, will of course accept a victory by any margin - he is under big pressure and could do with a morale-boosting win.
KICKOFF: Following a minute's silence for the tragic events that unfolded at the King Power Stadium last weekend, Manchester City get us up and running at the Etihad Stadium. The winners of this match will face either Leicester City or Southampton for a place in the semi-finals.
SAVE! A snapshot from Kevin De Bruyne requires saving by Sergio Rico in the Fulham goal. It was a pretty straightforward save for the Spaniard, but already the Citizens are getting the ball in some promising positions - it could be a long night for the visitors.
SAVE! Five minutes played and City have just got away their second on-target attempt of the evening, with Kevin De Bruyne attempting to catch out Sergio Rico at his near post. Like the earlier shot from the Belgian, it was pretty routine stuff from Rico's perspective.
The early signs are not good for Fulham, as Man City are dominating possession and getting shots away at goal. Fulham have already given the ball away a couple of times in dangerous positions - not something you want to do against this side!
CLOSE! It is a constant bombardment on that Fulham goal. Leroy Sane gets away from his man all too easily down the left and sends a dangerous cross towards the front post. The ball hits Tim Ream and ricochets out for a corner kick - that could have ended a whole lot worse for the American defender.
Fulham have barely managed to get the ball out of their own half so far, and they are fortunate to still be on level terms. Man City are looking very bright in terms of the speed of their passing and their movement off the ball.
The good news for Fulham is that their opponents have created no further shooting opportunities over the past few minutes. It really is backs-against-the-wall stuff from the visitors, though, and they still have 77 minutes to see through.
SAVE! Some more dangerous play from City culminates in Phil Foden, off the mark with his first goal for the club in the win at Oxford United in the last round of the competition, getting away a powerful shot from eight yards that Sergio Rico pushed behind.
SAVE! Fulham get forward for the first time tonight, forcing Arijanet Muric into his first save of the game. Luciano Vietto decided to go for it despite being 20 yards form goal, and his shot lacked any sort of power or precision.
GOAL! MANCHESTER CITY 1-0 FULHAM (BRAHIM DIAZ)
It is fair to say that this goal had been coming! Brahim Diaz
will claim it as it was his powerful shot from 12 yards that led to the goal, with the ball hitting Aleksandar Mitrovic and wrong-footing Sergio Rico. Poor defending from Fulham in the build-up to the breakthrough goal.
Man City have kept seven clean sheets in their last eight matches, so that strike from Brahim Diaz could well spell the end of this cup tie. The Citizens will fancy adding a couple more to their tally before the night is over.
CHANCE! Brahim Diaz so nearly gets himself a second goal of the contest, only to flick Gabriel Jesus's cross against Denis Odoi in front of goal. Leroy Sane still managed to pick out Phil Foden, who could only smash the ball over the bar from a good position.
OFF THE POST!
It is not looking good for Fulham, who trail to a deflected Brahim Diaz strike but will be grateful to only be one goal down. Danilo rifled the ball against the outside of the goalframe from seven yards - the angle was against him.
Kevin De Bruyne stands over the free kick from 30 yards, which was always going to favour a right-footer. The effort was not bad, either, with the Belgian's shot dipping and giving Sergio Rico a real fright as it skimmed the roof of the net.
Man City have had 70% of the ball in the opening half an hour - a figure lower than I was expecting - and you would not bet against them doubling their tally before he interval. One-way traffic at the Etihad Stadium so far.
The Citizens' intensity levels have dropped a tad over the past couple of minutes. As long as it remains 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium, the visitors have a chance of snatching a leveller. Still just the one shot for the Cottagers this evening.
Fulham's best moment of the match so far, as Aleksandar Mitrovic is given the chance to turn and shoot inside the box. Vincent Kompany did well to get between the ball and the goal to block the shot, and it came back off the Serbian for a Man City goal kick.
CHANCE! Guardiola has complained about his side's profligacy on a few occasions this season, and they have been guilty of that in this first half. Kevin De Bruyne picked out Phil Foden, who in turn played it through for Leroy Sane, but the German thumped the ball over the bar rather than squaring for Foden.
With a little over five minutes of this first half to play, Guardiola will be wondering how his side only have a one-goal advantage. That may well become a concern the longer it remains this way, as the visitors did have half a chance five minutes ago through Mitrovic's shot.
City have spent the past three of four minutes patiently probing away, and it so nearly pays off. A cross into the box from Kevin De Bruyne is palmed into a dangerous area by Sergio Rico, though nobody in a sky blue top could get on the end of the loose ball.
Just a few minutes of the half to play and Fulham are looking to go into the break just the one goal down. The Citizens have been dominant throughout, but they have been unable to add to their deserved opening goal.
CLOSE! Kevin De Bruyne, at the heart of everything for Man City tonight, sends in a delightful cross that is met by the head of Phil Foden. Just five yards out, the youngster should have been picking out the net, but he instead guided it inches wide of the post.
HALF TIME: MANCHESTER CITY 1-0 FULHAM
Gabriel Jesus brilliantly wriggled his way past three opposition men and got a shot away from the final attack of the half, which Sergio Rico did well to fingertip away from his goal. Man City utterly dominant in the opening 45 minutes, but they have just one goal to show for it at the break.
Fulham had conceded 15 goals in a four-match losing run heading into this tie, and it was backs-to-the-wall stuff right from the off. Sergio Rico produced a couple of saves in quick succession to keep out Kevin De Bruyne - back in the starting lineup as one of 10 changes for the hosts - before pushing behind a Phil Foden drive.
Some good play from Leroy Sane down the left nearly culminated in a breakthrough goal soon after, only for his cross to ricochet off Tim Ream and end inches wide of the net. Fulham offered barely any attacking threat in the first half, though they did at least get one shot away 17 minutes in through Luciano Vietto's weak attempt from outside the box, which young City goalkeeper Arijanet Muric was equal to.
The Citizens had their deserved breakthrough goal with less than a quarter of the game played, as Brahim Diaz put his foot through a loose ball in the box, with the deflection off Aleksandar Mitrovic - who could have been braver with his defending - taking it past Rico. Diaz was denied a second by a good Denis Odoi block in front of goal, while Danilo rifled the ball against the outside of the post from an angle and Sane thumped an even better chance over the bar when he could have returned the pass to Phil Foden.
Pep Guardiola complained of profligacy from his players following his side's 3-0 win
over Fulham in the league two months ago, and there was more of that on display in this rearranged tie as Foden guided a close-range header wide of the post and Gabriel Jesus failed to beat Rico after ghosting past a couple of opposition men. City are looking comfortable at the midway point.
MANCHESTER CITY SUBS: Ederson, Walker, Sterling, Aguero, Bernardo, Mahrez, Gomes
FULHAM SUBS: Fabri, Christie, Mawson, S.Sessegnon, Le Marchand, De la Torre, Ayite
KICKOFF: We are back under way at the Etihad Stadium, where neither manager has made any changes at the break. Manchester City are unbeaten in 12 meetings with Fulham, winning the last six of those, and they are good value to extend that run here.
Just like in the final throes of the first half, Gabriel Jesus does brilliantly to get away from his man but cannot pick out a teammate when looking up. The Brazilian could do with a goal tonight to give Guardiola something to think about ahead of the visit of Southampton.
Man City win another free kick within shooting range, but Danilo can only send it over the crossbar. It did take a deflection off the wall, though, so a corner kick has been awarded to the home side.
Phil Foden slices the Fulham defence open with a simple pass. Gabriel Jesus thought that he was offside - that's how straightforward the move was - and that worked against him as he lost all momentum. The cutback was easily dealt with.
CHANCE! Positives and negatives for Guardiola to take away from this display, as another chance comes and goes. Leroy Sane finds himself in plenty of space and puts the ball in a dangerous position for Gabriel Jesus to meet, but he fails to keep his header on target.
Some more brilliant play from Phil Foden, who glides through the middle of the pitch and slips the ball through for Brahim Diaz. The game's only scorer miscontrolled the ball, though, with effectively just Sergio Rico to beat.
Leroy Sane is having plenty of joy down the City left. The German winger's latest cross turned out to be more of a shot in the end, with Sergio Rico gathering the ball at his near post. City just cannot find that killer second goal.
SHOT! Some excellent defending from Danilo to take the ball away from Ryan Sessegnon inside the Man City area. Having failed to take any of their numerous chances, the Citizens are now having to protect their slender advantage as Schurrle tests Muric.
City just appear to be going through the motions now, which they cannot really afford to do when it remains just 1-0. More than an hour played at the Etihad Stadium, but both managers have held off from making any changes.
Fulham are enjoying their best spell of the match. Andre Schurrle created some space down the left but the move came to a disappointing end, as leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic could not bring the ball under control in front of goal.
Leroy Sane hammers the ball into the side-netting when left with just Sergio Rico to beat. That would have gone down as another big miss, but Martin Atkinson had blown for an early infringement as the German pulled back on Fosu-Mensah.
MANCHESTER CITY 2-0 FULHAM (BRAHIM DIAZ)
There is the second goal that Manchester City were after to put this game to bed. Gabriel Jesus hit the post after being played through by Leroy Sane, but Brahim Diaz kept his composure and found the roof of the net from the rebound.
Man City can now start to think about Sunday's visit of Southampton, with a quarter of this fourth-round tie to play. There is some movement down on the Citizens' bench, so we can expected a change or two to be made shortly.
FULHAM SUB! Guardiola appears to be rethinking his changes, so it is Fulham who make the first substitution of the match. Maxime Le Marchand is brought on for Tim Ream in the centre of defence.
City have slowed the tempo of the game since edging two goals in front, knowing that they have done all of the hard work. Surprised that Guardiola has yet to make any changes, with that visit of Southampton just a few days away.
So, so easy from a Man City perspective. A couple of quick passes with Phil Foden, who has had a very good game, and all of a sudden Leroy Sane is in behind. Gabriel Jesus meets the cross but it deflects behind for a corner kick.
Manchester City are on the brink of booking their place in the fifth round of the EFL Cup thanks to a couple of goals for Brahim Diaz - his first in senior football. The Citizens look good value to score a third and fourth.
MANCHESTER CITY SUB! Riyad Mahrez, whose Manchester City career is now well and truly up and running, is given a run out late on here. Brahim Diaz departs with a couple of goals to his name.
YELLOW CARD! Vincent Kompany attempts to atone for his error, succeeding only in catching Aleksandar Mitrovic to earn the game's first yellow card. Luciano Vietto then sent in a delightful cross, which was crying out for someone in white to convert.
FULHAM SUB! Floyd Ayite is brought on for Andre Schurrle for the final nine minutes. Fulham have had a couple of bright moments this evening, and should they make the most of any late chances then we will have a game on our hands.
Oleksandr Zinchenko's delivery is a little too high for John Stones and goes straight out of play. It looks as though the English centre-back will play the full 90 minutes - it is going to be a very busy week for him.
Into the final five minutes at the Etihad Stadium and it is fair to say that this match is now petering out. Manchester City have been in control right form the first minute, although it was not until that second goal that they could truly breathe easily.
MANCHESTER CITY SUB!
A potential blemish to the night for Man City, as Timothy Fosu-Mensah landed on Kevin De Bruyne's leg and the Belgian has limped off to be replaced by Claudio Gomes. Fingers crossed that is nothing too serious!
The injury sustained by Kevin De Bruyne, making just his second start of the evening tonight, will be a worry for Pep Guardiola during this gruelling run of games. The visitors appear to be readying a third and final change...
FULHAM SUB! Luciano Vietto is replaced by Cyrus Christie, a goalscorer in Fulham's win at Millwall in the last round, as Jokanovic makes his final change of the evening. Mitrovic latches on to a cutback but sends his deflected shot wide.
FULL TIME: MANCHESTER CITY 2-0 FULHAM
Manchester City are safely through to the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup thanks to a 2-0 win over Fulham. Young Spanish attacker Brahim Diaz opened the scoring less than a quarter of the way through with a deflected shot past Sergio Rico, before adding his second after the hour mark with a well-taken finish into the roof of the net.
That concludes Sports Mole
's live text coverage of events from the Etihad Stadium. An on-the-whistle report can be found by clicking here
, and be sure to join us again at the weekend as we bring you updates from a number of Premier League and La Liga matches. See you then!