This week we will be treated to another instalment of the Capital One Cup and with the Premier League’s big six entering at the third round stage, we will finally catch a glimpse of everybody competing in this year’s competition.
The League Cup is now associated with squad rotations, exciting cross-divisional encounters and experimental management. These ingredients pave the way for a competitive knockout regime where we not only gain a sneak preview of the future in terms of younger players being blooded, but also a unique opportunity for top flight clubs to play against a wider array of opponents from the Football League, adding a diversity to the fixture scheduling and in many cases the chance of a potential banana skin for the ‘big’ teams in the country.
Recently, several managers have emphasised the importance of the competition in terms of giving a platform for their younger and utility based players to audition for a more regular berth and this is important in the modern day game.
A lot is made of the congested opportunities for youth to break through in England and refreshingly, the Capital One Cup often throws up unlikely mixed rosters which fans of the respective clubs can go home and think about in an entirely unique fashion.
For example, during West Ham United’s 2-0 victory over League One Crewe Alexandra in round two, Sam Allardyce selected the likes of French Euro 2012 star Alou Diarra in defence with development pair Jordan Spence and Dan Potts also receiving an education alongside the experienced 31-year-old of 44 Les Bleus caps.
In contrast to Diarra’s experience, Potts is just 18, has featured four times from the start of his career for the Hammers and has only just made his breakthrough at England Under-19 level.
If it weren’t for the League Cup, where else would we witness such diversity in a first eleven?
Many Manchester United fans are likely to receive their first sight of late Chilean arrival Angelo Henriquez in the Red Devils third round game against Newcastle this week. There could also be further opportunities for Alexander Buttner, Will Keane and Portuguese talent Bebe who made his initial breakthrough in the competition in September 2010, scoring in a 5-2 victory over Scunthorpe United at Glanford Park and is since back from a loan spell with Besiktas.
In this fashion, the experimental nature of the League Cup is great for fans to receive an invigorated sense of squad depth in their mind but also for managers who may reap the added value of seeing a developmental squad member grasping an opportunity amidst the testing environment of an intimidating lower league venue or stepping out and turning on the flair admirably in front of a well-attended floodlit arena.
These demanding surroundings, as provided by the Capital One Cup, are the ideal setting for managers to truly gain a valid insight as to whether to press the metaphorical rejection button or rise to their feet in applause in true ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ fashion.
Tottenham’s Steven Caulker, who is now receiving more and more chances with the first team under Andre Villas-Boas, made his Spurs debut in the League Cup back in September 2010 and was particularly lambasted for his underwhelming display in a disappointing 4-1 home defeat to arch-rivals Arsenal with defensive lapses proving his unfortunate undoing on the night.
This could have been the end for the now Team GB star but this accelerated blooding forced Harry Redknapp’s hand in loaning him out and he has since successfully negotiated a football education in loan spells at Yeovil, Bristol City and Swansea. He is now considered a fine prospect and a potential heir to Ledley King in the eyes of many punditry panels.
This is just one example of how experimenting in the League Cup has forged a conclusion and thereafter another choice in the long-term planning of the club management.
We are all set for the third round of this year’s competition and fans can be assured of highly entertaining and unpredictable knockout ties.