Last week’s opening legs of the Carabao Cup semi-finals made the country stand up and take notice. Take notice of the fact that the League Cup is still ongoing. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was all wrapped up by now, or only being able to name 3 of the 4 semi-finalists.
But no. The “enthralling” stalemate at Stamford Bridge in between Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as Bristol City’s valiant effort at the Etihad was a reminder of how the tournament has become stale, and a burden on teams throughout the league.
Credit where credit’s due, Bristol City did fantastically on their trip to Manchester and deserve all plaudits that they receive. However, it’s a good news story in what has been a mundane and lifeless competition in the last decade.
So, why should the League Cup be axed? Well for one, it’s no longer fit for purpose. By definition, the “League Cup” or “The Football League Cup” is meant to be a knockout tournament for the 92 teams who are privileged enough to be part of the English Football League. Regardless of whether you think the Premier League is included in the Football League anymore one thing is certain. The League Cup is meant to be a competition to find out who is the best English team in the top four divisions of the pyramid.
Wigan, Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Cardiff City, Sunderland and Southampton have all made final appearances since 2006. Not to mention the centrepiece game of the competition in 2013, when on the 24th of February at Wembley Stadium, Bradford City and Swansea City slogged it out as the two best teams in the country.
No, it wasn’t a hallucination. A quick google search confirms that it did happen and is a recorded event in modern day history. On a side note, Wikipedia tells me that the weather that day was “Intermittent Snow”.
To me, the League Cup died that day. It stands now as a potential trophy for the likes of constantly under pressure managers such as Wenger and Mourinho, as well as incoming bosses looking for an early bit of silverware to point to. But what does it signify? How is it an achievement?
Manchester City’s road to glory in 2014 saw them take on four premier league teams. Wigan Athletic, Newcastle United, West Ham and Sunderland (Ok, three and a half). Why should they win a trophy for this? And if they do win a trophy for going to the DW Stadium on a Tuesday night in mid-October and grinding out a 2-1 win with a rested team, why is it considered to be a major piece of silverware. Even United’s victory in Wembley 11 months ago came against a mid-table side in Southampton, only four weeks after seeing past Hull City in the semi-finals.
Some will accuse me of being a “big club snob”, but it’s not about that. It’s not even that fun for lower league supporters. If you’re a Shrewsbury fan and you’re drawn at home to Chelsea in the fourth round it’s not going to be night for the ages is it. It’s going to be a midweek game and therefore have very little build up to it. Chelsea will bring a rested team down there, maybe struggle for an hour before scoring two goals in the last twenty minutes and move on to more important matters in the league.
Giant killings and romantic tie clichés can be left for the League Cup’s bigger, better and less awkward brother, the FA Cup. Scrapping the League Cup would give the Northampton’s and Rochdales of this world a chance to focus on their league campaign, promotion and getting closer to playing the big boys twice a season rather than hoping for Old Trafford away on a wet night in late November.
The FA Cup deserves a mention as well. It goes without saying it would move back up in the big boys’ priorities if there was only one domestic cup to challenge for. Just imagine this season for instance. With Manchester City home and hosed on about 134 points already, Chelsea, United, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham would all be going for this. Even if it was only self-preservation for the managers. However, Conte and Wenger can both put it to one side with a possible League Cup final in sight on the 25th of February, shown in both their failures to make it through against Championship opposition already.
Liverpool have gone out of the FA Cup early the last two seasons, mainly due to an onslaught of games in January. Two-legged League Cup semi-finals added in with FA Cup replays throws sides’ seasons into disarray, seen this weekend with Chelsea failing to score past Leicester at home.
The League Cup, the Milk Cup, Worthington Cup, EFL Cup, Carabao, Capital One, Carling, Rumbelows or whatever you want to call it has very little if any historical prestige or nostalgia. It’s really hard to see anyone that benefits from it being around. Who gets excited about it? Even Sky Sports, who could make you watch paint dry through hype and advertisement if they wanted to, fail to give the competition any X-factor.
I’ll carry a few great memories of the League Cup. But in an age where you can watch any match in the world with a visit to an illegal streaming website with a Bolivian host domain name, no one’s arsed about the League Cup
All the best. Sorry Bristol City fans.