MATT BARLOW: It’s time to pension off the League Cup. Championship clubs play weakened teams and don’t care if they lose, so let’s have a rethink and DITCH Premier League teams
- The League Cup is the most under threat of England’s major competitions
- Domination from the Premier League elite in last decade has hurt the cup
- Championship clubs are struggling to compete and are fielding weakened sides
- Attendances are also being hit, with first-team stars not featuring this season
- It may be time to reform the competition without the Premier League teams
When Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and their Premier League cohorts mark out their run for the annual assault on fixture congestion, the EFL Cup prepares to take cover.
The competition, currently sponsored by the energy drink Carabao, is the smallest, least-loved and most vulnerable of the major trophies.
When its existence is brought into question, however, lower league clubs fight back with robust arguments about financial lifelines, national exposure and opportunity.
Liverpool are the current holders of the League Cup after beating Chelsea in February’s final
Pep Guardiola (left) and Jurgen Klopp (right) have both complained about fixture congestion
It is 60 years old and counting, and each year there are ties to thrill and excite under the lights on autumn nights.
It survived the trend sparked by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal for top-flight teams to treat the early rounds as a glorified training exercise for fringe players and youngsters.
This has become established and accepted practice. Initially it made for a few embarrassments, but now the mega-squads assembled by those at the top of the Premier League can swat lower-league opposition aside without their biggest stars risking injury or fatigue.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was one of the first managers to start playing weakened teams
In nine years since Swansea beat Bradford in the final, the handsome old trophy has become the property of the elite, with six wins for Manchester City and one each for Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.
While this destroys the theory that the biggest clubs could not care less if they win it or not, the trickle-down effect has been for Championship clubs to write it off as an unnecessary distraction.
Why waste energy fighting through just to be beaten by the big guns when they turn up in the third round?
Twenty of the Championship’s 24 clubs played in the first round on Tuesday and Wednesday and 15 went out, most playing their reserves against opposition from a lower division. A 16th went out on Thursday as West Brom scraped past Sheffield United 1-0.
Burnley and Watford, as the highest-ranked of the three teams relegated from the Premier League, are exempt until the next round.
Many Championship teams have been playing weakened sides in the competition, drawing fewer supporters (Pictured, Blackburn Rovers’ Tyrhys Dolan scores against Hartlepool)
NOT UP FOR THE CUP
Fourteen Championship clubs came up against a lower-league side in the Carabao Cup first round. Twelve were knocked out — with Rotherham and Blackburn the only survivors.
It raises certain questions, such as what is the EFL’s main cup competition for if their top teams do not want to challenge the best teams in the country?
Why persevere if those in the Championship would rather save their energy to escape the EFL for the Premier League?
Is it for the fans? Sheffield Wednesday, who attracted almost 27,000 for their opening League One fixture of the season against Portsmouth, drew a crowd of just 8,412 to Hillsborough for a first-round tie with Sunderland.
Ipswich attracted more than 26,000 against Bolton in League One but less than 12,000 for a derby with Colchester.
None of the ties on Wednesday had a crowd above 10,000. They all knew they would not be watching teams at full strength.
It is time for the League Cup to undergo a revamp without Premier League sides involved
Does it help develop young players? Well, perhaps it does but the EFL Trophy is to develop young players. In fact, it was controversially redesigned in order to develop young players, with Premier League clubs allowed to enter Under 21 teams.
Is it about protecting a vital revenue stream? Probably, but perhaps it is time to explore different ways to spread the wealth. Pension off the EFL Cup as we know it. Reform it as a knockout competition for the 72 clubs in the EFL and give them all a more realistic chance to reach a final, have an amazing day and fight for a prestigious trophy.
Adjust the prize money accordingly, make the EFL Trophy a dedicated competition for Under 21 teams, and the by-product could be to boost the FA Cup and ease fixture congestion for those playing in Europe.
It will also spare us the annual round of bleating from Guardiola, Klopp and Co.