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Should the League Cup be scrapped, or merely limited to clubs from the EFL?

Efl Ball

“With the amount of games we have, sooner or later the players break down. With this amount of games it happens, the people in administration cannot complain,” said Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, speaking recently to the press about the injuries to both Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford. The England duo have both been sidelined for a considerable period of time with respective hamstring and back complaints, and could face missing out on the forthcoming European Championships this summer as a result. 

It is the second time in as many seasons that Kane has succumbed to injury during the early part of the new year. Last term, the England and Tottenham captain sustained two seperate ankle injuries - one in January and one in April - which saw him miss a total of 17 matches. Rashford is only 22 years of age but has now missed eight games (and counting) due to the recurrence of a pre-existing back problem. This week alone, Tammy Abraham and Jamie Vardy have both fallen victim to injury - is this an unmissable sign that the gruelling schedule is simply too much for footballers to handle? Guardiola certainly believes so, as does Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, who has previously made his thoughts on the matter well known.

“Sooner or later the players fall down,” added Guardiola. “It’s too much and I’m so sorry for them, they should reflect on it but they don’t care.”

For continental managers who have previously coached in any one of Europe’s other major leagues, the constant wall-to-wall football in England - played out from August to May - is seen as overkill. In the German, Spanish and French top-flight, domestic action takes a break for between two to four weeks over the Christmas period, giving players in each division a chance to recuperate ahead of the second half of the campaign. If it is a season with a major international at the end of it - such as the case this time out with Euro 2020 kicking off in June - players representing their respective nations, who may have benefitted from a winter break earlier in the year, have an indisputable edge over those who did not.  

With two of England’s most important assets now potentially missing this summer’s tournament, the problem has suddenly become very real for the Three Lions. Across the festive period, Marcus Rashford played 333 minutes of football in just ten days, while Harry Kane played 345 minutes throughout that same short period before severely injuring his hamstring. Such is the extreme level of high tempo and intensity required in Premier League football, is it any wonder that the pair have simply crashed and burnt out after playing that much in such quick succession?

This season, the Premier League have taken baby steps towards providing a mini-break for players in the English top-flight. Next month, the fixture list for gameweek 26 will be cut in half and sprawled out over two weekend’s as opposed to one, meaning that each side will enjoy a two week break. This is a step in the right direction and does mean that fans will not experience a mind-numbingly boring weekend filled with no Premier League football or international action as a backup, as there will still be games on each weekend, just less of them. What it has also done in the process, though, is completely disrupt the scheduling for the FA Cup. 

Traditionally, the competition’s fifth round would have been played on the weekend of February 15th. Instead, due to the break, it will now be played in the midweek of March 4th - the rest week between the opening knockout matches of the Champions League and Europa League. Replays have been scrapped from the fifth round onwards, meaning that any drawn ties will go to extra-time and penalties. 

This does somewhat discredit a competition which has already depleted in both popularity and importance in recent seasons. It also means that, despite Premier League teams enjoying a brief rest courtesy of the split gameweek in February, the top-flight sides still left in the FA Cup will experience a frantic backlog of fixtures as they will be catching up on them midweek - essentially rendering the aforementioned break a little pointless.

So, what is the solution? As spoilt football fans, we do not want to see the Premier League take a break across the festive period. Boxing Day is the most important part of Christmas for many of us due to the vast amount of action on display, so to have that snatched away from us would be disastrous. It will also not happen. Too much money is made from television rights across the festive period and no broadcaster has ever made any more revenue by providing less live games. Club’s need the huge sums of cash made from TV rights and the busiest period for that money to be made is in late-December/early-January, therefore abolishing it could be catastrophic.  

On the flip side, though, there is a need for a slight break in the season. One solution that has been discussed by many is eliminating the League Cup - currently named the Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons - or, simply restricting it to teams from the EFL.

“We have to eliminate competitions - take them out completely so fewer games and if you make the League Cup just for the Championship teams or League One and Two then it wouldn’t be interesting,” said Guardiola. 

“In the Bundesliga there are 18 teams not 20, one cup not two and they have a break. In Spain they have a break, the cup is run with one game not two.

“It’s a big difference and it protects the players. I can be tired, I don’t run. For them they’d enjoy it more, the people too. People can live without football for a while. It’s too much.”

It is an interesting view-point taken by the Spaniard and does pose a genuine question - should we either scrap the League Cup completely, or make it a non-Premier League competition moving forward to decrease the sheer level of football played throughout a season? Top-flight sides have viewed the League Cup as somewhat of a burden throughout the previous two decades anyway, rarely fielding strong teams or taking it seriously at all. 

After all, if a manager who has won the competition four times in the last six seasons is calling for it to be scrapped, it is a damning summary of just how little it is valued among the Premier League’s elite. Attendances at League Cup games are dwindling by the season, with the allure of severely cut-price tickets the only thing which continues to get people through the gate at all. There would still be a cup competition for clubs to compete in should the League Cup be eliminated from proceedings (the FA Cup) but, just like in Germany, it would stand alone rather than alongside another midweek, second-rate competition which accrues little interest from both fans and clubs alike.

It is all well and good arrogantly stating the negatives of this competition and the positives it would bring for Premier League football clubs, whilst completely ignoring what the League Cup has - and always will - do for clubs in the lower reaches of the footballing pyramid. Entertaining the idea that the highest ranked sides in the hypothetically rebuffed League Cup would be from the Championship is a genuine idea which, in the future, could have legs in it. But, at the same time, it does also disregard the ridiculously busy schedule that teams from the second-tier already endure each season. 

The Championship has 24 teams in it - as opposed to the Premier League’s 20 - and they frequently play midweek as well as at the weekend. There is, like the Premier League, also no winter break or the luxury of an upcoming split gameweek for teams in England’s second division, so why should they have to continue in the League Cup - unwanted by the country’s biggest clubs but deemed good enough for the unimportant clubs of the Championship - if the teams from the top-flight do not have to? And why should sides from League One and Two be deprived of their dream trip to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United or Anfield to face the teenagers of Liverpool and Divock Origi? It is a narrow-minded debate which, once again, only considers English football’s elite. 

MK Dons’ heroic 4-0 win over Manchester United in 2014 is one of the biggest memories in the Buckinghamshire club’s history; it will never be forgotten by fans who were at Old Trafford on that fateful evening - if you get rid of the competition or make it solely for clubs in the EFL, these memories will become a thing of the past which seems incredibly unfair. The revenue that clubs such as Oxford United would have made through TV rights when Manchester City came to visit in December would have been huge for the League Two side. If you take that away, there will be repercussions for these lower ranked teams, possibly stronger than we may currently imagine. 

There is massive cause for concern due to the recent injuries that have ravaged two of England’s stars ahead of a major international tournament in the summer, and what Pep Guardiola has touched on is correct, to a degree. The scheduling in the Premier League is too much and will eventually burn players out and something needs to be done. February’s split gameweek is a promising start which needs refining if it is to be repeated next season - so to not affect the FA Cup - while getting rid of the League Cup is an argument which carries with it a number of positives. 

The trouble is, these positives only suit the Premier League while the negatives that would come with it have the potential to really damage clubs from outside of the top-flight; club’s that need much more consideration than those at the very top of the pyramid. It’s all well and good carelessly saying that the League Cup should be scrapped without a second thought, but would what that mean for football in England as a whole?

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