London – Manchester United will turn to the League Cup to salvage their desperate domestic season when they visit Sunderland on Tuesday for the first leg of their semi-final.
Having fallen 11 points off the pace in the Premier League, United saw another potential route towards silverware curtailed on Sunday when they were stunned 2-1 at home by Swansea City in the FA Cup third round.
Although United remain in contention in the Champions League, the League Cup now represents their best hope of rescuing a trophy from a campaign that threatens to turn into an outright disaster.
An extra incentive is the fact that derby rivals Manchester City are their most likely opponents in the final, with Manuel Pellegrini's side due to host West Ham United in the first leg of the other semi-final on Wednesday.
United manager David Moyes reached just one major final in his 11 years at Everton, losing to Chelsea in the FA Cup in 2009, but with Wembley Stadium now within sight again, he has urged his players to roll up their sleeves.
“If you lose games at any club, it's always difficult. At Manchester United, it's even bigger,” Moyes said after Wilfried Bony's 90th-minute header earned Swansea victory at Old Trafford on Sunday.
“But that's the job. We'll get on with it, we've got a big game coming up on Tuesday, and we'll get the team ready for that.”
Sunderland are at the bottom of the Premier League table, but they had gone four games unbeaten prior to losing 1-0 at home to Aston Villa on New Year's Day.
They also enjoyed victory in the FA Cup on Sunday, winning 3-1
at home to third-tier Carlisle United to set up a fourth-round tie at home to either Kidderminster Harriers or Peterborough United.
“We are going to become a cup team,” joked Sunderland manager Gus Poyet after the win against Carlisle.
City are fighting for honours on four fronts and their schedule became even more congested on Saturday when they were taken to a replay in the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers following a 1-1 draw at Ewood Park.
With league games against Newcastle United, Cardiff City and Tottenham Hotspur also on the horizon, City will play six times in only 22 days this month, but Alvaro Negredo believes that the squad can cope.
“The main thing is to recover well after all the games,” said the Spanish striker, who claimed City's goal at Blackburn with a close-range volley.
“A good thing about this club is we have a big squad with a lot of players, so we can rotate without the change changing the way we play.
“Hopefully we can get a good result in front of our fans to take to West Ham.”
West Ham go into the game on the back of an embarrassing 5-0
defeat at second-tier Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup.
The east London club are also currently second from bottom in the Premier League table, but manager Sam Allardyce will expect a reaction against City after resting nine players for the defeat at Forest.
“I picked the team (to play Forest) so it is my responsibility,” he said following Sunday's loss at the City Ground.
“You know what my priorities are: the priorities are the Premier League first and then Capital One (League) Cup.
“It's leg one on Wednesday and we need to get back to the second leg with an opportunity to get to Wembley and then get some points at Cardiff (in the league).”
Fixtures (1945 GMT)
Sunderland v Manchester United
Manchester City v West Ham United
Note: Second legs to be played on January 21-22 – Sapa-AFP