There is perhaps too much criticism of the League Cup, from pundit or journalist to unenthused football fanbases. It is easy to argue that no one cares about the competition –managers are sacked after lifting the trophy at top teams, while lower league teams, at the prospect of more games and an underwhelming prize, choose to focus on the clamber to the ‘promised land’ of the Premier League. This results mostly in an enthralling competition of which Premier League side has the best 2nd string team.
But this apathy is not just in England, across the Channel this week, France’s Ligue de Football Professionnel made the decision to scrap the ‘Coupe de la Ligue’. If you have a rudimentary knowledge of French or just some common sense, you could guess this meant the end of the French League Cup. And just like that, this Wednesday Villa will play in what as of next season will be the only league cup in all top five European leagues.
The English League Cup
The competition is at this point just a trophy to pad out top team’s cabinets – in the last ten years the only two teams to have won the competition from outside the ‘top six’ have been Swansea and Birmingham city. Since the 2009/10 season seven of the ‘Carling/Capital One/Carabao’ trophies have gone to the two Manchester clubs, with Chelsea and Liverpool joining the two previously mentioned more surprising winners.
Villa’s league Cup record in recent years is somewhat laughably bad, which makes the hypothetical concept of the English League Cup disappearing quite palatable on the face of it. A cup competition which often conjures up the cliché footballing narrative of David and Goliath, Villa have developed a nasty habit of taking painful stones to the head, while the premier league’s big boys have dominated the trophy tally.
Villa’s 2019 Cup Journey
However, despite being genuinely awful against lower league clubs in recent years, the team vaulted the potential stumbling block of Crewe Alexandra with a professional performance, even if the 6-1 win was undoubtably flattering. And now they will face stiffer competition in the form of Premier League outfit, Brighton.
The Seagulls in their last Carabao Cup tie made 11 changes for an away trip to Bristol City, relying on a late winner from Skipper Glenn Murray to win. Both sides will inevitably field a weaker eleven, with the priority for both teams being surviving the drop and keeping thier Premier League status.
It’s No Joke
The League Cup is trashed as a bit of a joke by the all-knowing entity that is football twitter, discounted as a bit of a waste of time by experts with strange handles composed of a player’s name and whatever random word comes into their head. However, can we, as fans of a club in such a draining trophy drought afford to turn our noses up to any sort of silverware? I don’t want to raise hopes irresponsibly as we’re probably not going to win the League Cup – as I’ve shown there’s a pseudo-monopoly on nobody’s favourite competition. But out of all the competitions that Villa are involved in, it’s probably the highest of the minuscule chances.
Aston Villa were the first club to win the League Cup in 1961 and would go on to win the competition four times after that, making the most final appearances of any team. It is also the most recent English cup trophy that Villa have won, with Brian Little’s side beating Leeds United at Wembley in 1996.
Discarding sentimental reasons, to have a run like that of the admittedly more prestigious FA cup in the 2014/15 season, could do a bit maintain the level of goodwill and enthusiasm in the fanbase even in face of disappointing results in the league.
In the case of the FA Cup run that fell at the last hurdle, the team wasn’t very good, but the run into that competition was electric at times. Scott Sinclair’s (Yes, I know I’d forgotten as well) winner against West Brom after a sweet piece of footwork or the exploits of the team against Liverpool in the semi-final were probably some of the best moments of my football fanhood.
Don’t get me wrong it ended terribly, but it was nice to have a chance to win silverware. Even if we did get demolished in the final.
Neither team will be sure enough of their Premier League credentials to risk any key first team players in the competitions third round, so who of Villa’s fringe players will have the chance to impress Dean Smith.
Jed Steer – Although displacing Heaton may be too great of an ask for Steer, the competition is still a great chance for the playoff hero to make an impactful return to the team. I’d also, being sentimental at heart, just like to see the stopper in Claret and Blue again after contributing so much for us last season.
Kortney Hause – The defender who impressed last season and was picked up for what seemed like a bit of bargain has yet to feature in the Premier League as of yet. Hopefully he can continue to build on his only appearance so far which came in the 6-1 win last round, progressing further would give a chance for him to pick up needed game time.
Keinan Davis – Much like Kortney, the cup should be an opportunity for Keinan, as his game time in the league has also been limited. Given the lack of solid options upfront, a good performance from the 21-year-old will assure the fans that there is a backup option were Wesley to get injured or suspended.
There is something to be gained from a good result in this tie and a long run in the competition, however seemingly pointless it is compared to the rest of the season. The squad has many members which at this point have played very little competitive football this season, for which the cup provides a way to keep match sharpness and impress. How everr belittled the competition is or how irrelevant it is to clubs pragmatically, some success in any cup competition would be welcomed by a fanbase who have in previous years been knocked out by Burton, Middlesbrough and Luton.