The first Carabao Cup semi-final pits Southampton against Newcastle in the first leg at St Mary's on Tuesday evening and it could be a tight first clash with Wembley now in the sights of both clubs.
The Magpies are favourites at 3/4 To Win on the night in Full Time Result and are also as short as 1/6 To Qualify overall for the final - which would be their first major cup final appearance since the 1999 FA Cup final at the old Wembley.
|What||Southampton v Newcastle, EFL Cup semi-final, first leg|
|Where||St Mary's, Southampton|
|When||20:00, Tuesday 24th January, 2023|
|How to watch||Sky Sports Main Event/Football|
|Odds||Southampton 4/1, Draw 5/2, Newcastle 3/4|
Eddie Howe is enjoying a fantastic campaign in charge of the wealthy north-east giants, who are also firmly in the mix for a shock top-four finish in the Premier League this season.
Saints, on the other hand, have had a difficult time of it in 2022/23 but, under Nathan Jones, there are signs things are moving in the right direction. They deservedly knocked out Manchester City in the previous round, so this is by no means a given for the Toon.
The odds suggest this first leg on the south coast will be a breeze for the visitors but the home side have been in better form of late, winning three of their last four matches in all competitions, and they were only on the wrong side of a couple of tight VAR calls in their narrow 1-0 home league defeat to Aston Villa at the weekend.
With the second leg still to come in the north-east, there's a good chance this will be far from resolved after the first 90 minutes and recent history tells us the first legs are often tight affairs in this competition with teams rarely racking up a convincing win before the second encounter.
You have to go back to 2019 when Manchester City embarrassed then League One Burton Albion 9-0 at the Etihad to find a team winning by more than a two-goal margin in the first leg of the League Cup semis.
Under Jones, Saints have been better defensively but the fact remains they are bottom of the Premier League, a hefty 24 points worse off than Tuesday's opponents, who are up to the dizzying heights of third.
Add in the fact Newcastle won 4-1 on their last trip to St Mary's - a result that prompted Saints' board to sack previous boss Ralph Hasenhuttl - and all the signs point to an away success.
However, despite their impressive campaign, Howe's side have not been particularly free-flowing going forward either of late. A superb defensive resilience, which has seen them keep nine clean sheets in their last 10 outings, has been the bedrock upon which they have built their performances on but they have actually only scored four goals in their last six games all told.
Making a case for a Southampton win is difficult, but this could quite easily end up in a tight draw with Newcastle well aware they would then have the cushion of a home game in what is bound to be a bouncing St James' Park to come to try and seal their place at Wembley.
The way Southampton raised their game and Jones' ability to conjure up a tactical plan to first nullify City in the quarters and then hit them on the break shows they can compete with and get the better of the big-guns in one-off games such as this.
Expect a low-scoring affair, with under 2.5 goals overall on the night also appealing at 4/5. That is a bet that would have paid out in each of Newcastle's last three games and in two out of three of Southampton's.