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Is the League Cup still relevant?

Tuesday 25th September 2018

As the League Cup makes its return tonight, many have one question. Why? The competition struggles to compete against the FA Cup, never mind the Premier League. The fact it has become more of a promotional exercise than an actual tournament adds to the belief that getting rid is the best option.     

So should the EFL Cup be scrapped? Would handing the 58-year-old an early retirement be doing everyone a favour? Or is there reason to keep it going? Arguments exist on both sides. 

For League Cup lovers, the concept of competition is important. Think Everton, a club which hasn't won a trophy since 1995 despite sitting fourth on England's all-time honour list. For Toffees fans, so starved of success, lifting this season's Carabao Cup would constitute progress.   

Non-elite Premier League clubs, those unlikely to suffer relegation yet not expected to make the top four, should view the EFL Cup as a realistic shot at glory. It also offers European football to the winners.   

Yet, the truth is such teams don't regard the competition in that way. Instead, they use it to give squad players much-needed minutes. Even Championship sides have often elected to rotate, preferring to focus on top-flight promotion and all its riches.

Frankly, the League Cup is not respected.

In the past, the League Cup was used to blood youngsters, giving them valuable first-team experience. It worked perfectly. Teams such as Arsenal became synonymous with playing youth through the various rounds, to mixed success. Now, though, even the Gunners hand starts to older players searching for form. Danny Welbeck is one example.     

Not that all sides show the EFL Cup total disrespect. The fact a current top six team has won the competition nine out of the last 11 times proves the elite are using it to their advantage. For some managers, it's the perfect opportunity to build momentum. Jose Mourinho, in particular, has used this trophy as a way of driving his sides to further success. Pep Guardiola did the same last season, too.       

That, though, is a problem. If the League Cup isn't competitive and the lesser sides don't show it much respect, is its existence futile?    

The answer is yes. The competition adds more matches to an already packed English schedule. If it was a choice between having a winter break or the EFL Cup, it's easy to imagine which would win out.    

The situation is different at lower-league level. There, the League Cup remains a major revenue stream. It often proves the difference between life and death for cash-strapped teams. The Premier League money has to filter through somehow, and the Carabao-sponsored trophy is the perfect syphon.

Also, factor in the excitement and buzz felt by Accrington Stanley, for example, when a top-tier side arrives to play at the Crown Ground. For those, the EFL Cup's abolition would represent a sorry day.

At this time, reformatting the League Cup is the best solution. First, all would welcome scrapping the two-legged semi-finals. There are few who see the point of those. They are just another unnecessary fixture, taking something away from what should be a special occasion. 

Capping ticket prices is a must, too. It would give fans an incentive to go, thereby breathing new life into the competition. Nobody would feel robbed paying £20, even if they are forced to watch a reserve team.  

Over rotating is also easily fixable. Limiting the number of changes the bigger clubs can make would ensure each game is taken seriously.  

Quotas could make sure that starting elevens feature a certain number of youngsters. Doing so would transform the EFL Cup into a competitive environment for match-starved youth, one in which they can develop. That would offer huge benefits to a country whose brightest prospects are now leaving en masse to get required game time.

Broadcasting more lower-league teams in Carabao Cup action is another good idea. Not only would it help filter the television money down the pyramid, but also give less-illustrious divisions their share of the spotlight.   

Whether the appetite is there to fix the League Cup remains unclear. There are plenty of voices, and loud ones at that, calling for its termination. For some, though, it still has an important place in the English football calendar. 

For that reason alone, the League Cup is worth saving.

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Sean Lunt

Football journalist working in the North West mainly covering Everton and Liverpool but with musings on anything football related. 


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