DAVID MOYES - MANCHESTER UNITED
It was always going to be difficult to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United but just 18 wins from 32 games in all competitions, with a win percentage which drops to just 50% in the Premier League, has put David Moyes under pressure like he would never have imagined. The Scot's tactics, ability to handle the big stage, transfer business and leadership qualities have all become the focus of intense scrutiny.
Therefore, much like the 1990 FA Cup win was a crucial first trophy in saving Ferguson's reign in what was already his fourth year at Old Trafford, the Capital One Cup could be similarly vital in the long-term aspirations of Moyes. In the wake of the FA Cup embarrassment by Swansea City last weekend, United's struggles in the Premier League and the superiority of rivals in the UEFA Champions League, the Capital One Cup is United's last realistic chance of winning a trophy this season. It could give Moyes a positive to which he can point when the time comes for assessing his first full season in charge.
Qualifying for the Premier League's top four will ultimately make or break Moyes at United but a trophy, particularly in the middle of the season, would at least be something - whether or not that would be enough for a club the size of United is a different matter. Moyes can consequently not afford to take any risks in his selection on Tuesday night in the first leg at Sunderland, who have lost only once in their last seven matches. Gambling by making massive changes to his team, as he did versus Swansea, could put Moyes in big trouble.
Gary Pallister says...
"If you get a chance to win a trophy in a season, then it has been a success. David Moyes has been in the game and not managed to win a major trophy so I am sure he will be desperate to do it. It will probably also ease a little bit of the pressure, because everyone is looking at Manchester United while they go through this transition and I think a lot of people are enjoying Manchester United not being the force they have been. The dynamic of not qualifying for the Champions League would change things around in terms of transfer money but if you win silverware in a season, you have got to look at it as being successful."
MANUEL PELLEGRINI - MANCHESTER CITY
Sitting just one point off the top of the Premier League, while earning huge praise for their attacking football and phenomenal home form, it would have been easy for Manchester City to have forgotten about the Capital One Cup. But Pellegrini, to his great credit, has remained determined to succeed and earn a first trophy in England to add to a CV which currently contains no domestic honours in Europe.
The Chilean, who has the best Premier League win percentage of 70% of any manager left in the Capital One Cup, has benefitted from a squad which is probably the strongest in British football at present and that has meant he has been able to rotate his players. Likewise, City have still been scoring goals for fun in the Capital One Cup (10 in total) in what has been not been an easy run versus Wigan Athletic, Newcastle United and Leicester City.
Pellegrini appears to be of the same mind-set as Jose Mourinho when he first arrived in England for his maiden tenure at Chelsea, where he targeted any trophy to start on the front foot with success. That Pellegrini, who also has a very busy January fixture list - including an FA Cup replay against Blackburn Rovers, is following this policy is an ominous sign for West Ham United before Wednesday's first leg at the Etihad Stadium. It points towards the potential beginning of a legacy at City.
SAM ALLARDYCE - WEST HAM UNITED
Having struck the stance of a man who had the world on his shoulders during West Ham's FA Cup humiliation at the hands of lower league Nottingham Forest last weekend, Sam Allardyce will know he cannot afford another heavy defeat when visiting Manchester City. He has received support from West Ham co-chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan but Allardyce is still under pressure following a dreadful run of eight defeats in 12 games which has seen his injury-plagued squad fall into the Premier League relegation zone and just a point off the bottom of the table.
Allardyce's decision to spend big on salaries for the likes of Stewart Downing has been strongly criticised while the lengthy injury absence of Andy Carroll has exposed a squad, which has also been missing the likes of defender Winston Reid through injury over recent weeks. Kevin Nolan's loss of discipline as captain has been yet another stick with which Allardyce has been beaten.The outlook is bleak for the West Ham boss, whose style of play combined with a Premier League win percentage of just 25.9% this season has infamously never been popular with the club's fans.
At the same time, a place in the Capital One Cup semi-finals is proof enough the competition has provided some solace. But it has now become more than just a silver lining and is instead a saving grace for Allardyce, who has listed the competition as his second priority behind the Premier League - where they take on relegation rivals Cardiff City at the weekend.
Gold and Sullivan do not like firing their managers and their open letter to fans has demonstrated their support for Allardyce. But they may have little choice if results do not turnaround. Going for success against City this week, and potentially gambling on the fitness of players, when there is a relegation battle to be fought could have dire consequences in the long run for Allardyce.
Tony Cottee says...
"Let's be realistic, we know the club are in trouble. They are in the bottom three of the Premier League and they have just been knocked out of one cup competition. But, on a positive side, they are in the semi-finals of another cup competition. It has been really difficult. We all know the long-standing problems Andy Carroll has had all season and that has affected the team and everyone involved in the club. More recently, they have lost three of their centre-halves, one of their midfielders is suspended and Mark Noble has just got injured. There are lots of reasons to be gloomy as a West Ham fan at the moment but I am trying to optimistic. It is going to be difficult but if West Ham can get through the semi-final, it will be a big boost for the club."
SUNDERLAND - GUS POYET
Gus Poyet has had an undoubted impact at Sunderland. Brought in to save the club from Premier League relegation following the Paolo Di Canio debacle, they remain bottom of the table but are just four points from safety and have lost only once in their last seven games in all competitions.
The Capital One Cup has been included in that run with the memorable extra-time victory over Chelsea in the quarter-finals. That win, along with the Premier League derby victory over Newcastle, has been a highlight of the season for Sunderland and demonstrates Poyet has clearly not discarded the Capital One Cup when he could have been forgiven for doing so amid the battle for survival. Perhaps there is a desire within the club to focus on cups in order to end a more than 40-year wait for a piece of silverware.
But is he correct to do so? Poyet, whose Premier League win percentage with Sunderland stands at just 23.1%, has been in charge for the Capital One Cup wins over Southampton and Chelsea, picking pretty much a full-strength team on both occasions. It is a gamble which could pay off if successful in the cup but will otherwise be seen to have backfired.
A look at the past example of Birmingham City winning the League Cup but also getting relegated in 2010/11 demonstrates the distraction which can be caused and it comes down to that old argument surrounding the best option between winning a trophy or avoiding relegation.
Michael Gray says...
"Winning the Capital One Cup would be huge for Gus Poyet's status at Sunderland. What Gus has done is to try and establish the way he wants to play football and stamp his authority on the side. The fans are buying into that. It is very patient football and a different way of playing to what we saw from the two previous managers. But he has brought passion in abundance. Sunderland also need that killer instinct to finish teams. People say the Capital One Cup is a bit of a distraction and talk about the need to stay in the Premier League. But when you get to this stage of the competition, it is a very nice distraction. People talk about the example of Birmingham being relegated after they won the League Cup but winning the trophy is written in their history books."
Which manager has the greatest need to win the Capital One Cup this season?