For the first time in three seasons, the League Cup semi-finals are an all-Premier League affair. The exit of Leicester City in the last round at the hands of Manchester City, means that there will be no chance of a true upset this time around, and no fairytale trip to Wembley for a lower league outfit – as was enjoyed by Bradford in the Capital One Cup Final last February.
This could be seen as a negative by many fans, with the beauty of knockout football being that the odds can sometimes be tipped and many left frustrated by shock results. But in terms of the stature of the Capital One Cup, it really shows how the competition is heralded as one of the very best on show in English football.
You just have to look at the teams taking part in the last four to see that the Capital One Cup has taken on a significant role in seasons where priorities have changed. Manchester City are now virtually guaranteed a spot in the Final after a 6-0 home win over West Ham, in which a number of top players were fielded despite the club’s title charge. Okay the Citizens have the biggest budget and, arguably, the strongest squad in the country, but still the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompamy, Alvaro Negredo and David Silva started despite three points on a week-by-week basis being needed to keep up with Chelsea and Arsenal in the battle for the league title.
Their opponents may have been brushed aside, but West Ham also illustrated how important the Capital One Cup is despite their disappointing showing. Sam Allardyce has endured a difficult season so far, with investment in his squad over the summer having only yielded a battle against relegation thus far. Heading to the Etihad Stadium, ‘Big Sam’ named a reserve side in the FA Cup, for which he received a hammering from the media and a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest. With injuries in his squad rife, the ex-Newcastle boss opted to rotate his options to keep key players fit for the Capital One Cup clash.
The other Semi-Final tie is also being contested by sides with their own battles away from the competition. Manchester United have been, arguably, the story of the season so far with David Moyes taking over from Sir Alex Ferguson in the dugout at Old Trafford. It’s fair to say the transition has not been smooth, with league form poor and an exit from the FA Cup at the first hurdle having been endured. Still, Moyes has remained intent on winning the Capital One Cup, with the Scot often fielding his big-name players to guarantee a passage into the next round at each stage. Lifting the trophy in March may be one way in which the ex-Everton man secures another season at the helm of what has been English football’s most iconic club over the course of the past two decades, illustrating just how important overturning a 2-1 deficit against Sunderland could be.
The Black Cats should also not go unmentioned. With Gus Poyet’s side – like West Ham – embroiled in a scrap to say in the top tier. Despite a need to notch points in the league, the Uruguayan manager put out a first-string side at home to United, and was repaid with an impressive win.
Every team on show in the Semi-Finals has their own story away from the competition, with league challenges, relegation fights and transitions all at the forefront of minds. So it really is homage to the Capital One Cup they have all given the tournament priority among other battles and quests, and displays just how important the fabled League Cup trophy is, in an era where football is dominated by the financial gains of being in the Premier League and continental competitions.