MATT BARLOW: It’s time to retire for the League Cup. Championship clubs play weakened teams and it doesn’t matter if they lose, so let’s rethink and CLOSE the Premier League teams
- The League Cup is the most endangered of England’s major leagues
- Premier League elite domination over the past decade has hurt the cup
- Championship clubs struggle to compete and have weakened teams
- Attendance numbers are also affected, with first team stars not appearing this season
- It may be time to reform the league without the Premier League teams
As Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and their Premier League cohorts mark their run for the annual attack on match 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.
However, when its existence is questioned, lower league clubs fight back with firm arguments over financial lifelines, national exposure and opportunity.
Liverpool are the current holders of the League Cup after beating Chelsea in the February final
Pep Guardiola (left) and Jurgen Klopp (right) have both complained about congestion on the playground equipment
It’s 60 years old and it’s still counting, and every year there are tires to captivate and wind under the lights on fall evenings.
It survived the trend sparked by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal of showing top teams the first rounds as a glorified training exercise for fringe players and youngsters.
This has become an established and accepted practice. It caused some embarrassment at first, but now the mega-squads put together by those at the top of the Premier League can knock the lower division opponents aside without risking injury or fatigue to their biggest stars.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was one of the first managers to start playing weakened teams
In nine years since Swansea defeated Bradford in the final, the handsome old trophy has become the property of the elite, with six wins for Manchester City and one for Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.
While this shatters the theory that the biggest clubs don’t care whether they win or not, the trickle-down effect for Championship clubs has been to write it off as an unnecessary distraction.
Why waste energy fighting through to be defeated by the big guns when they show 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 with their reserves against lower division opponents. A 16th went out on Thursday as West Brom scraped past Sheffield United 1-0.
Burnley and Watford, the top-ranked of the three teams relegated from the Premier League, are exempt until the next round.
Many championship teams played weakened teams in the league, drawing fewer supporters (pictured, Blackburn Rovers’ Tyrhys Dolan scores against Hartlepool)
NOT FOR THE CUP
Fourteen Championship clubs faced a lower league in the first round of the Carabao Cup. Twelve were eliminated – with Rotherham and Blackburn the only survivors.
It raises certain questions, such as where is the EFL’s main cup competition for if their top teams don’t want to challenge the best teams in the country?
Why persevere when 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 drew nearly 27,000 for their first League One game of the season against Portsmouth, drew just 8,412 spectators to Hillsborough for a first-round draw with Sunderland.
Ipswich drew over 26,000 against Bolton in League One, but less than 12,000 for a derby with Colchester.
None of the bands on Wednesday had a crowd of more than 10,000. They all knew they weren’t going to watch the teams at full power.
It’s time for the League Cup to get a facelift without any Premier League clubs involved
Does it help develop young players? Well, maybe, but the EFL Trophy is to develop young players. It was even controversially redesigned to develop young players, with Premier League clubs allowed to participate in Under 21 teams.
Is it about protecting a vital revenue stream? Probably, but maybe it’s time to explore different ways to spread the wealth. Retirement from the EFL Cup as we know it. Reshape 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 a great day and compete for a prestigious trophy.
Adjust the prize money accordingly, make the EFL Trophy a special competition for teams under 21, and the by-product could be to boost the FA Cup and ease competition congestion for players in Europe.
It also saves us the annual bellow from Guardiola, Klopp and Co.