Burton Albion boss Nigel Clough says taking on City in the Carabao Cup semi-final will be an education for his players.
The Brewers’ chief, who has now taken three different lower league clubs to domestic cup semi-finals, accepts the Blues will start the game as odds-on favourites to progress, but he’s determined his team enjoy both legs and give their all in the process.
“We tell our lads ‘watch the best’ when they are at home watching TV or in person if the opportunity arises,” said Clough.
“Watch them, watch what they do and ask why they are the best at what they do – and now they are going to see them at first hand.
“We’ve never been to the Etihad, so we’re looking forward to that and to seeing all the facilities and it will be a big learning process for our players seeing some of the best players in Europe at close quarters.”
Clough comes from excellent League Cup stock having won the trophy twice himself as a player and having seen his father Brian win the competition four times with Nottingham Forest.
As a manager, Nigel was in charge of the Derby County side that played Manchester United in the League Cup semis in 2009/09 – though he says he had only just arrived at Pride Park and doesn’t take any credit - as well as guiding Sheffield United to the FA Cup (2014) and League Cup semi-final (2015) during his time at Bramall Lane.
He also oversaw a famous 0-0 draw as Burton Albion boss against Manchester United in the FA Cup in 2007 when the Brewers were still a non-League club, so the ex-City, Forest and Liverpool star has a tremendous record in cup competitions.
“I've always treated the competition with the respect it deserves,” said Clough.
“Realistically, you can only win one of four things, so I’ve never understood why it’s not been taken more seriously when there is the chance of a final at Wembley, a trophy and a European place up for grabs.”
Burton’s run to the Carabao Cup semis is worthy of note. To date, they’ve seen off League One Shrewsbury Town, Championship promotion challengers Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough and Premier League side Burnley.
All teams who they were expected to exit the competition against.
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Clough, however, admits seeing his League One strugglers in the last four of the League Cup and the other three teams that his side could face, was a little surreal.
“For the live draw, when the BBC put the four numbers of the clubs left in the competition and when I saw Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Burton Albion I knew we were in trouble whoever we pulled out of the hat!” he smiled.
“It was a little bit scary from our point of view, but I think Man City were the team we wanted to avoid in some ways because of the depth of the squad – City could maybe put out a third-choice side that would be difficult to beat because of the talented youngsters at the club.
“We’ve seen some of the Checkatrade games City’s Under-21s have played and even the younger players can be pretty frightening at times.
“That said, the opportunity to play City overrides everything else at this stage. I think our players are a bit apprehensive of the two games, but really looking forward to it at the same time.
“I don’t think Chelsea or Spurs have the depth that City have in their squads, but obviously it was going to be tough whoever we played.”
Read the full interview in the matchday programme versus Burton Albion this Wednesday...