Aston Villa weren’t among the 16 clubs originally invited to send an academy side to this year’s revamped EFL Trophy. But with news pouring in of the Premier League’s big clubs declining to participate, the Claret and Blues could have an invitation in their mailbox in the coming days.
For the first time, the EFL Trophy (the former Johnstone’s Paint Trophy) will pair the 48 League One and League Two members with 16 Category 1 academy sides, creating a 64-team competition, complete with a regionalized group stage.
It was thought that Villa’s 2015/16 season was just egregious enough to avoid an invitation, but if Manchester United and Spurs decline invites, as has been reported by the Daily Mail, Norwich City and Aston Villa should be given the chance to contest the competition.
All 15 Premier League sides with Category 1 academies, plus Newcastle United received invites from the EFL, but the unpopular tournament is proving unpopular with the “big clubs” as well — the participation of Liverpool and Manchester City, among other teams, is also up in the air.
Most League One and League Two supporters are understandably upset about the introduction of the competition — they see it as the first step toward “B” teams contesting the league, like in Spain — and I’ll join them in that opinion. But if Villa do get an invite, they’d be silly to turn it down, with a strong group of academy players that could surely use matches against first-team EFL sides.
The competition will start with teams being drawn into 16 groups of four, where clubs will play three matches. Villa, if participating, would have to guarantee one home tie at Villa Park. From there, the top two teams in each group will move through to a knockout stage, which will also be regionalized at the round of 32. In the first three knockout rounds, matches level after 90 minutes will go straight to penalties, with extra time set for the semifinal and final.
If Villa enter the EFL Trophy, they’ll be required to field at least six U21 players in each starting XI, though I’d hope the club take the opportunity to make it a full youth squad effort, rather than sprinkling whatever this year’s version of the “bomb squad” looks like into the XI.
And obviously, it’s still speculation until we hear official word, but it looks likely Villa will get an invite. Is this something exciting? Or would you prefer Villa decline the invite on principle?