Sponsored competitions are soooo last season darling. That is surely how the conversation went at Football League headquarters when discussing the newly rebranded League Cup. Frankly, as a name, the EFL (as in English Football League) Cup pales into comparison to some of the previous incarnations of this competition – what football supporter of a certain vintage doesn’t get all dewy eyed when thinking of the Milk Cup, for instance?
Naming rights aside, it’s an odd thing, the League Cup. You’ll often hear how Jose Mourinho views the competition as an important one as it represents an opportunity to get a trophy tucked away in the cabinet long before the season is out but at the same time, it’s winners are quickly forgotten once the ticker tape has been swept off the Wembley turf and the champagne doused designer suits of managers and touchline reporters alike have been sent to Sketchleys.
I tried to remember, without looking it up, the last 3 winners of the competition and drew a blank after Manchester City last season and Chelsea in 2015 (turns out it was Manchester City again in 2014 – a memorable 3-1 win against Sunderland.)
Whilst the EFL Cup might not be top of anyone’s list of priorities this season, it assumes greater importance for some than others, depending on how good or bad a clubs start to the campaign has been.
Ahead of this week’s second round ties, we look at those for whom the EFL Cup could offer solace, sanctuary or something much worse:
It’s not start well for everyone’s favourite touchline dancer has it? Two games played, two defeats and no goals scored mean Alan Pardew might be getting a little twitchy given how dreadful his Crystal Palace side have been in 2016. A home tie against Blackpool has equal potential to act as a confidence booster or another nail in the coffin. Last season, Palace’s run to the FA Cup Final helped Pardew avoid any awkward questions about his position. A similar run in the League Cup could keep the wolves from the door a little longer, however, elimination to mid table League Two side who have a strong case to be called Britain’s most beleaguered club and no amount smooth talk and less smooth dance moves would stop serious questions being asked of the Crystal Palace manager.
Their failure to qualify for European competition means Chelsea find themselves competing in the second round of the League Cup for the first time since the 1996/97 season. The lack of Champions League football might help Antonio Conte in his Premier League planning but Blues supporters, fed on success for the last decade, will expect a decent run in both cups too. A home tie against Bristol Rovers shouldn’t present much of a challenge and this tournament will give Conte the chance to have a look at some of the more peripheral members of his squad.
Liverpool’s boss became an instant media darling the second he touched down at Liverpool John Lennon Airport. However, after Saturday’s defeat at Burnley, questions are starting to be asked as to whether the ‘normal one’ really is as good as his media profile suggests. Having taken over midway through last season, Klopp led Liverpool to the final of this competition, only to lose on penalties to Manchester City. Throw in the Europa League defeat and Klopp has now been beaten in his last five final appearances. If he can go one step further than last season he will not only get that rather unpleasant monkey off his back, he’ll go some way to proving his doubters wrong.
West Bromwich Albion Supporters
It surely can’t be that much fun following the Baggies these days. The credo is clear at the Hawthorns: just don’t get relegated. To say that’s made for some fairly turgid football over the last few seasons would be to put it mildly. Albion supporters might be more inclined to accept Tony Pulis’ safety first style of play if they were compensated by a decent cup run. Their best League Cup showing in recent years was a quarter final defeat to Ipswich in 2010. This year they’ve been drawn away to Northampton, a tie which has the distinct whiff of a giant killing, particularly if Pulis fields a weakened team. Premier League survival might be priority number one, but paying proper dues to both cup competitions would likely buy the Albion boss a little more time with the supporters who will have a big say in his future.