It seems every year we forget what the League Cup represents to English clubs. The de facto second tier cup competition in England, the League Cup is effectively set up so that teams who have little to no chance of winning the league title or FA Cup can taste the sweet victory of hoisting silverware.
The League Cup is not a good measuring stick of where teams are at form wise. It is not a way to gauge which teams are “for real.” It is a singular competition, where teams can be judged based on their play within it.
Yet, every year it seems that a big team goes down to an underdog in this competition, pundits and fans are quick to jump all over them as uninspired, out of form, and unready to take on the challenges ahead. That’s exactly what happened to Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United this week.
Chelsea, with just 11 points from 10 games in the league, is the easiest target here, as many fans across the world have suggested firing manager Jose Mourinho, despite the fact that he coached them to a title last season. After their midweek loss at Stoke, on an Eden Hazard penalty no less, Chelsea were derided for their uninspired play, with many fans feeling that they might be witnessing the biggest collapse in form in English history.
Or there’s Arsenal, constantly derided for years of underachievement, whose 3-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday elicited feelings in the fan base that they may never lift another league title again. Arsenal have been accused of playing for a “fourth place trophy” year after year, and in their loss to Wednesday, they appeared incapable of winning even that.
Finally, there’s Manchester United, who, despite a stellar run of form of recent weeks, were unable to secure a victory against Middlesbrough. United suffer from the ghosts of Sir Alex Ferguson, as fans remain very displeased that they have not won a trophy since he departed, and failure to rise above fourth place since he departed hasn’t exactly sat well with the United faithful. A loss to Boro in the League Cup will only fuel that fire.
However, the thing that all fans of these clubs needs to realize is how little the League Cup actually matters for the success of their clubs this season. If any of these clubs were to win any other trophy this season, the League Cup becomes a footnote on a larger trophy-winning campaign. Just ask Chelsea, who won the league title and the League Cup last season.
In fact, it might actually be beneficial for these three teams to avoid the League Cup like the plague. While it only adds a few extra games to the schedule, it’s one more thing teams have to worry about, and with league matches, the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League on the schedule for all three clubs, there’s no doubt that these teams have plenty on their plate. Especially for sides with older players like Chelsea and Arsenal, fatigue can become a huge factor.
With teams like Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United bowing out of the League Cup, it certainly loses interest of casual fans, but maintains its purpose. This year’s cup will give clubs with less financial capability the chance to take home some silverware, along with the fame and prize money that comes with it.
Additionally, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United will be able to focus on the competitions that truly matter to them, thus producing better results in the process.