Manchester United will take its hopes of winning a third straight League Cup title to West Ham on Tuesday, with recent form suggesting that only a changed lineup could prevent it reaching the semifinals.
United cruised to the top of the Premier League for the first time this season with a 7-1 win over Blackburn on Saturday but manager Alex Ferguson is set to make widespread changes to keep players fresh.
Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Wes Brown are all likely to play, with United's squad also containing reserves Magnus Eikrem, Ben Amos, Bebe and Ravel Morrison. But midfielder Michael Carrick is not contemplating a correspondingly weaker performance due to any changes. "We set high standards and we want to keep hitting those levels," Carrick said. "We did that, but we want to keep doing that every week."
United's priorities as usual are the Premier League and Champions League, but with Arsenal hosting Wigan in Tuesday's other quarterfinal - and Aston Villa-Birmingham and West Bromwich Albion-Ipswich scheduled for Wednesday - there are still some tricky opponents left in the second-tier cup competition. West Ham is last in the Premier League but beat Wigan 3-1 on Saturday and - just three years ago - recorded three straight wins over United.
The Hammers' lineup is also likely to include several younger players after James Tomkins, Junior Stanislas, Victor Obinna, Pablo Barrera and Winston Reid helped end the club's eight-game run without a league win.
"There are more young players behind the scenes," manager Avram Grant said. "But you need to do it step by step. My vision at West Ham stays the same even if we are at the bottom of the league with not many points.
"You need to have a vision and our vision is to put this club in a good place. The young players here have the quality but they are young and need to learn."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger long used the League Cup to give experience to youth players but has shifted stance this season and will pick another strong lineup for Tuesday.
Robin van Persie could make an appearance as he continues his comeback from injury.
"We will play with a strong team," Wenger said. "But don't forget that we have played every three days for one and a half months so I have to see how we recover and who I rest Tuesday. "But we will play with a strong team. You will see regular players."
With Emmanuel Eboue back in the squad just a week after being carried from the field with a strained medial knee ligament, Cesc Fabregas and Sebastien Squillaci are the only players unavailable because of short-term injuries.
"Emmanuel Eboue is back in the squad much quicker than planned," Wenger said. "When we made a scan his knee was swollen, but the ligament was intact so we decided to push him back as quickly as possible and the tests were successful." Arsenal avoided a third straight loss when it beat Villa 4-2 on Saturday. Villa's players will have more motivation than usual to bounce back since their quarterfinal is against the club's biggest local rival.
"There's going to be a tremendous atmosphere for the Blues game, but I think we can win it," Villa winger Stewart Downing said. "It's obviously going to be hostile and they're going to get right behind their team. But if we score and can keep them quiet then we can start passing the ball and playing our game.
"That's what I've always thought in away derbies, you've got to immediately quieten the crowd. You've got to play your normal game and not let the atmosphere intimidate you."
Bragging rights in the derby have swung between the teams lately. Since 2002, Birmingham won four of six matches and drew the other two before Villa hit back with six straight wins. The teams then drew 0-0 in the Premier League last month.
Ipswich is the last non Premier League side left in the competition and, with promotion the objective for League Championship sides, would normally look upon such a cup run as a welcome bonus.
However, Sunday's 4-1 loss against regional rival Norwich left Ipswich 16th in the 24-team second tier and on a run of four straight defeat.
"Now we have a massive game on Wednesday and we have to try and give the fans something back after what is a big disappointment for everyone," manager Roy Keane said.