Although a top-flight club has won the League Cup every year since 1991, when Sheffield Wednesday beat Manchester United (and even then it was the first lower league club to spring such a surprise since 1975), Premiership clubs habitually feign indifference to winning it. Even if some of them want to, getting caught celebrating winning it is a no-no; a tacit admission that triumph in English soccer's secondary domestic knockout competition is the height of your ambitions.
Accordingly, the higher up the table you climb, the younger and more inexperienced your League Cup teams get: if you go out, so be it. But this week, this supposedly humdrum little cup has made an unprecedented splash. Too much has been made of the fact that nine Premiership clubs went out -- there were six all-Premier League ties, after all -- but there are some genuine talking points.
Not least of all in Liverpool, where both Premiership representatives lost to lower league sides. In the midst of what is becoming its traditionally poor start to the season, Everton's inability to beat Brentford (League One) was considered merely woeful; Liverpool's defeat to Northampton Town (League Two) has really caused a storm.
"PATHETIC," spat the
Now, Liverpool's recent cup form is hardly overwhelming: it went out of the FA Cup to Reading (Championship) last season, struggled past Crewe Alexandra (League One) in the League Cup the year before, and was dumped out of the FA Cup by Barnsley (Championship) the season before that. Defeat to Northampton feels a slightly weak harbinger of doom.
But context is king and this season, with the RBS deadline of Oct. 15 approaching and the managing director
Valid questions are being asked about the decline of one of English soccer's oldest institutions, which threatens, with surreal believability, to become inexorable. But aren't these bigger issues than 11 v 11 on a wet Wednesday evening? On the night, it was Hodgson who fielded a patchwork side of out-of-position players without much in reserve, when
Perhaps he needed that game to demonstrate -- or even determine -- exactly how bereft of strength in depth Liverpool is. But Hodgson had already marked his card with a pair of defensive substitutions after Liverpool had leveled the score from a two-goal deficit at Old Trafford last week. And wasn't his appointment sold on the notion that he had a knack of getting the best out of average players? It's early days, but he will again be under the microscope when Sunderland visits Anfield on Saturday.
Hodgson isn't walking alone: Chelsea and Manchester City also lost to less-fancied opposition this week having fielded changed sides. The two meet in Saturday's early kickoff for what will be, on paper at least, the toughest game either has faced so far this season.
Of greater concern was the loss of three players to injury within the first hour or so of the match:
Kakuta and Benayoun would, in all likelihood, only have made the bench against City in any case, and though Kalou's chances of a start were better -- he's already scored four this season -- Ancelotti still has the luxury of significant choice. After all, 10 of those who started against Newcastle hadn't done so against Blackpool.
Things are slightly harder for City manager
It hasn't been a great week for Mancini, with reports that he'd accused Adebayor of faking the injury (with predictably explosive results) and the club's former conditioning coach
"It will be maybe one more month before you see the best of us," said Mancini. "If we can stay very close with the players we have at the moment, we will be able to move closer when the others come back." The trouble is if Chelsea wins tomorrow, it'll already be 10 points ahead of City.
One of the most interesting League Cup results was Aston Villa's 3-1 victory over Blackburn. Not just because it was
It was because no one who watched the game could describe it to those who didn't without saying: "
Perhaps there was something in the air:
A curled goal just after halftime, the crucial winning header in the final few seconds of the game, and a nonstop performance that also created chances for others... beating Chelsea must've felt like a dream, but seeing Ameobi play like that? Fetch the smelling salts.