Are players playing too much?
This week saw round 4 of the prestigious Carabao Cup take place which to be fair, was a great advert for the competition. At Anfield, Liverpool and Arsenal played out an incredible 5-5 draw which saw Liverpool go through on penalties, much to the despair of Jurgen Klopp. Marcus Rashford finally hit a free-kick that didn’t end up out the stadium to see United beat Chelsea. Colchester were rewarded after knocking out Palace and Tottenham with a trip to Old Trafford.
So is there still a place for the League Cup? Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has threatened that his team may have to boycott their quarter final against Aston Villa simply because they can’t find a time to play the game, the alternative could be to play two different teams at the same time. The Reds already have a manic Christmas period which sees them head off to the FIFA Club World Cup in mid December, before the dreaded Christmas pileup of games. Klopp isn’t the first manager to whinge about the Christmas fixture list either, City manager Guardiola jokingly suggested his players would go straight to the fridge after one game and not come out until the next one less than 48 hours later. Unsurprisingly Jose Mourinho has also previously complained about the heavy congestion in his time at Manchester United. Whether the League Cup is any significant detriment to the fitness of squads it is probably more of a hinderance than a help.
The League Cup is undoubtedly the least important trophy of the lot, especially for the clubs competing in Europe, it’s a chance to get to Wembley and win a trophy but more sides than not field weakened teams almost as if it’s an inconvenience. Not just Premier League teams, in lower divisions teams have more league fixtures and the EFL trophy to deal with on lot less budgets.
The reputation of the cup hasn’t been helped by the gimmicky nature of how it has been presented in recent years, Carabao i.e p*ss in a can became the sponsors, moved the draw to 4:15am UK time and then had the draw exclusively on radio 2. Not to mention John Barnes & Ray Parlour broadcasting the draw live from A Morrisons supermarket. It certainly hasn’t helped people take the cup seriously.
Positives - as mentioned before its a chance for a trip to Wembley and to win a trophy, although most teams rest their most important players it gives youth academy players a chance to shine and impress their managers and for teams like Colchester, a fantastic opportunity for a giant killing at Manchester United. Not just that but it can also provide brilliant revenue opportunities with sell out crowds in attendance when a Premier League club comes to town. The average attendances at League Cup finals sits at an impressive 84,000 proving there is still interest for teams when they do get there, but would they be bothered if they got knocked out in the first round? Probably not.
Negatives - On the flip side of things, aside from the poisonous drink the cup games are often uninviting for fans on a midweek in Winter to watch their B team. For sides in Europe it’s difficult to balance the fixtures, for fans it’s a challenge to afford the cost of four competitions a season. Even if a team do manage to get to the Semi-Final they are needlessly played over two legs. Not only a League Cup problem but the winter fixtures can be damaging on players who simply can’t handle the high intensity games 3 times a week over the winer period. Fans having to travel ridiculous distances on Boxing Day/New Years Day with very little travel options doesn’t help them much either.
So what is the solution?
- Remove teams playing in Europe from the competition - obviously one that would remove even more credibility from the cup but takes away the problem of fixture pile ups such as Liverpools and gives lower league teams an even bigger chance of making it all the way.
- Remove the competition all together - a solution that has already been taken by France as this will be the last edition of their Coupe de la Ligue, leaving England as one of the only major countries still with a League Cup. This would definitely divide opinion
- Winter break - Another thing that the other European league’s do, give teams a small break of maybe 2/3 weeks to break up the season. From a selfish fans point of view we don’t want to see this, there’s nothing better for armchair fans than waking up after Christmas Day to a full day of fixtures, for match going fans I’m sure some look forward to the Boxing Day p*ss up. In February 2020 we will see a two week break in which five matches will be played one weekend and another the weekend after in preparation for the Euros in June.
- Get on with it - Easier said than done but I’m sure some fans will be thinking this is the solution, clubs with hundreds of millions worth of squad depth should be able to handle the fixture congestion with their squads and should stop complaining because every club has to deal with it.
Liverpool are certainly victims of their own success but it has opened up a conversation about the future of the League Cup. If they are to forfeit their place in the League Cup it certainly could spell the beginning of the end of the competition. Klopp has a point that it is down to those in charge of the fixtures that should schedule the games so that all games can be completed. The Liverpool situation is unfortunate but is just the tip of the iceberg, hopefully conversations start to take place about the competition and we don't have to witness John Barnes and Ray Parlour doing another draw on an escalator in Morrisons.