Note for total football newbies (totaalvoetbalnübies, trademark @aztexan): a match or game is normally called a "tie" in cup competitions. No, I don't know why.
The League Cup-also called the Carling Cup after the beer that sponsors the competition (don't drink it)-is considered the lesser of the cups that EPL teams participate in. But when it's your club, and your club hasn't won a league title since 1981 and only won the oddly-named Intertoto Cup more recently, well, you get excited anyway. At least, you get excited in the later stages and start singing, "Que sera, sera, we're going to Wembley, Wembley."
Details of how the League Cup works after the jump.
Who: 92 clubs-the 20 clubs of the Premier League, and the 72 clubs of the Football League: 24 clubs each from the Championship, League One, and League Two.
What: A seven-round tournament based primarily around single-elimination ties.
When: Begins August 9 and ends February 27, 2011.
Where: The location for each game is determined by the draw, except for the semi-finals, in which for some bizarre reason the participating squads play two legs, home and away.
Why: Because having one large tournament in England/Wales isn't enough-they needed one that eliminated the non-league clubs. In seriousness, the winner earns a spot in the Europa League, although often the winner of the League Cup will qualify through Premier League play. Also, last year the winners of the Carling Cup (Manchester United) earned £100,000; the runners up (Aston Villa!) earned £50,00; and the losing semi-finalists (Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City) £25,000 each.
How: All clubs in the Football League enter the competition at Round One (unless they are playing in Europa League, which doesn't apply to any this season), which begins next Monday, August 9th. If there is an unequal number of clubs at this stage, the club that finished highest in the system in the previous season gets a bye to the second round. This year, those clubs are Hull City and Burnley. The remaining clubs are divided into two sections, North and South. Half the clubs are seeded based upon their finishing position last season. Those clubs play the unseeded clubs (yes, duh).
The clubs that win the single tie-which includes extra time and a penalty shootout-progresses to Round Two. This is the round in which Premier League clubs, excepting those that are involved in European competition, enter the tournament. With Hull and Burnley being given byes, 15 new clubs come in at this round, for a total of 60 competing. The clubs are no longer divided geographically.
The clubs that win the single tie-which includes extra time and a penalty shootout-progresses to Round Three. This is where the seven Premier League teams involved in European competition-Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham in Champions League, and Manchester City, Aston Villa and Liverpool in Europa-enter the competition. But if we've done our math right, that means 37 teams in the third round. That seems impossible, and I can't find an answer to how this works. Theories?
The third, fourth and fifth rounds progress as before, with single ties, extra time and a penalty shootout. It's the semi-final where things get bizarre. The four competing clubs play a two-legged semi-final, once at each team's home stadium. The aggregate score determines the winner-so like last season, when Villa beat Blackburn 1-0 in the first leg and then 6-4 in the second, the final score was 7-4 and Villa advanced. Should the aggregate score be even, extra time is played. If the score remains a tie, the team with the most away goals advances. If things are still level, a penalty shootout is played.
And then it's on to the final to win it. The final is played at Wembley, England's national stadium (hence singing ‘que sera, sera'). It's a fun day out, especially for clubs that haven't won a trophy in a few years. Last year, Wembley was swarming with Villa fans-claret and blue certainly outnumbered the green and gold of the anti-Glazer United fans. The winner is determined in the same manner as the rest of the rounds, excepting the semi-final. For those of you who were not Villa supporters or EPL followers last season, the League Cup final was a bit dramatic. Not even five minutes into the match, Nemanja Vidic dragged Gabriel Agbonlahor down inside the box, and though Aston Villa was given a penalty kick for the infraction, Vidic wasn't even booked. Although James Milner put away the penalty, this moment sticks in Villa supporters' minds, with many believing the team could have certainly won had United been down to ten men. Instead, Michael Owen equalized less than ten minutes later, and it was Wayne Rooney's headed goal with sixteen minutes left that won the trophy for United. Should you want a referee to hate, it was Phil Dowd that made this decision.
League Cup play commences August 9. As an Exeter City supporter, you can expect detailed coverage on Tuesday, August 10, but we'll keep you updated on the three days of matches. A little bit of football to tide you over until August 14.