MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The oft-derided League Cup is proving to be a saving grace for Manchester United, West Ham and Sunderland amid their wretched campaigns in the Premier League.
The competition that is widely regarded as inferior to the FA Cup has reached the semifinals, with Sunderland hosting United in their first leg on Tuesday and West Ham visiting Manchester City on Wednesday.
While City is going strong in the league, United languishes in seventh place in a weak defense of its title and West Ham and Sunderland occupy the bottom two positions. United and West Ham were also knocked out of the FA Cup over the weekend.
Here are five things to know about this week's League Cup semifinals:
Man United will be happy to be starting the semifinals away from Old Trafford, with the team unbeaten on its travels since the 4-1 loss in the Manchester derby in September. That run contains a 2-1 win at Sunderland in October.
Conversely, David Moyes' side has lost four of its last six home matches in all competitions and the Old Trafford fear factor from the Alex Ferguson era looks to have disappeared.
Speaking after a demoralizing 2-1 loss to Swansea in the FA Cup on Sunday, Moyes couldn't say whether star strikers Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney would be back from injury for the first leg.
What he did say, though, is that style could be sacrificed for substance as United seeks more consistency.
"It doesn't matter what style, whatever you do, you have to find a way of winning," Moyes said.
Last-place Sunderland is relying on its results in cup competitions to salvage something from this season and give its fans something to cheer.
Sunderland has beaten Chelsea and Southampton at home en route to the last four of the League Cup, and advanced to the fourth round of the FA Cup by easing past Carlisle on Sunday.
"We are going to become a cup team," Sunderland manager Gus Poyet said with a smile.
Speculation that losing at Etihad Stadium may be the final straw for West Ham manager Sam Allardyce proved to be misguided, with the club's co-chairmen putting on record their support for the coach in an open letter on Monday.