FourFourTwo's football preview: What will and won't happen this weekend
Man United vs Southampton (League Cup final)
- Southampton are just the second side in League Cup history to reach the final without conceding – Tottenham managed the feat in 1981/82 but lost the final 3-1 to Liverpool.
The big talking point: Er, duh: it's the first cup final of the season for two managers aiming to bolster the honours section on their Wikipedia pages.
Jose Mourinho has already been busy trying to deflect pressure away from the game, having rocked up to his pre-match press conference sporting 'CR' initials in support of vanquished Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri and duly laying into Foxes players for their lacklustre efforts this term. He's good at this final lark, though: the Portuguese won all four of his domestic showdowns with Chelsea, three of them in the League Cup, and could join Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson with a fourth victory in the competition. This will be only Claude Puel's second domestic final ever, having taken – and lost with – Monaco in the 2001 French Cup final. Will it be worth the wait?
What will happen: Zlatan to turn up, and United to win. The Swede might be midway through his 36th year of life but hasn't disappointed since peacocking into Old Trafford, plundering 15 Premier League goals and finishing off the likes of Saint-Etienne, West Ham and Blackburn in the cups too. His recent final pedigree is predictably strong: with PSG, a brace in the 2015 Coupe de la Ligue final against Bastia, and another pair in the 2016 Coupe de France clash against Marseille.
What won't happen: Well, don't expect a huge amount of goal action. Southampton haven't conceded en route to the final and only Middlesbrough's matches average fewer goals in the Premier League this season. Level with them on 2.36 goals per game? Manchester United.
Chelsea vs Swansea
- Diego Costa has scored seven goals in his four Premier League games against Swansea, more than he has against any other side in the competition. This includes a hat-trick in this exact fixture in September 2014.
The big talking point: Can Swansea carry their new resilience into Stamford Bridge?
Paul Clement has won three of his last four games and, had it not been for Gabriel Jesus's late winner, would also have taken a point off Manchester City. While Swansea aren't definitively improved as an attacking force, their level of defensive discipline has risen exponentially over the last few weeks. But what a place to put that to the test: no team in the country is better at finding and exploiting final-third space than Chelsea.
What will happen: Chelsea are one of the most dangerous breaking sides in the country, so expect Clement to keep his players deep and compact, and to limit their ambition. Unfortunately for Swansea, they're also the most efficient front-foot team, too, and have shown themselves capable of picking through even the densest defences. Chelsea will be what they now always are under Conte: methodical and relentless in that pressure ratcheting way.
What won't happen: Any recklessness from Swansea. In fact, expect a performance stylistically similar to the one given at Anfield in late January.
Crystal Palace vs Middlesbrough
- None of the last 15 league meetings between these sides at Selhurst Park have ended in a draw, with Crystal Palace winning 10 of these.
The big talking point: What effect is Sam Allardyce really having?
Palace haven't played for two weeks (since the 1-0 loss to Stoke) and that will have suited Allardyce. If his message is ever to resonate with these players, it should logically be now. He cancelled a planned warm-weather training trip to Dubai, with the squad remaining in England during the Premier League's hiatus. A focus, presumably, was placed on all the usual Allardyce synonyms and if by the time they emerge on Saturday they are not recognisable in his image, then there are serious problems at Selhurst Park.
What will happen: Middlesbrough will be their obdurate, well-drilled selves: they have a better defensive record than half of the top-six clubs for a reason. Palace? It will depend on how honest the discussions have been over the past fortnight. This game will either mark the beginning of their climb to safety or the start of their death swirl towards relegation.
What won't happen: Goals. Palace have only scored four times since Allardyce took charge and if ever a game was likely to be settled by a narrow score it's this one.
Everton vs Sunderland
- Sunderland are one of two Premier League clubs yet to name an unchanged lineup in the Premier League this season, along with Manchester City.
The big talking point: Everton's resurgence. Quietly, Ronald Koeman has put together a lengthy unbeaten streak stretching back to the middle of December and the Merseyside derby. No side has taken more Premier League points in 2017 than Everton. Koeman is known as a team builder and gradually forged an identity from the talented but flimsy parts he inherited from Roberto Martinez. He might also be close to cracking the conundrum of Ross Barkley, which should also provide an interesting sub-plot.
What will happen: Romelu Lukaku will score. Sunderland are Lukaku's favourite prey and has scored seven league goals against them already in his career, matched only by his record against West Ham. If he does score at the weekend, it would be his 60th for Everton and would draw him level with Duncan Ferguson as the club's leading goalscorer in the Premier League era.
What won't happen: Tension, nervousness, or anything to unsettle the Goodison Park crowd. David Moyes might have overseen a mild improvement over the past six months, but nothing which will make Sunderland anything more than cannon-fodder this weekend.