The Carabao Cup final is this week but, if you don’t support Chelsea or Manchester City, you could be forgiven for forgetting about it.
It takes place on Sunday, on the same day as two Premier League matches. Southampton travel to play Arsenal and Manchester United take on Liverpool. Both games kick off at 2:05pm. Once they finish, the build-up to the game at Wembley will start.
The scheduling is a disgrace.
Liverpool’s game against United is being billed as the game of the weekend and, let’s be honest, it absolutely is. It is a blood-and-thunder derby that could have a major impact on the Premier League title race. If United win, City take a huge advantage into their game with Chelsea. If Liverpool win, they leapfrog City and take their place at the top of the tree. A draw does City a favour, but does little for Jurgen Klopp. It may prove to be a feather in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s cap but that remains to be seen.
Why then, is the Carabao Cup final taking place on the same day?
There is a romanticised notion of cup finals, particularly those of the FA Cup. The build-up, the story goes, used to be cameras watching the players have their breakfast before jumping on a coach to Wembley. It took all day and, many will tell you, it didn’t matter if their team was playing or not. It was an event, a spectacle not to be missed.
The Carabao Cup – through its many iterations – has never pretended to be the FA Cup. It has never been valued quite as highly and, given that its bigger brother is going through a crisis of identity, that is far from a good thing these days.
Playing the game on the same day as major Premier League fixtures will only add to the bemusement, to the fatigue, to the anger.
City progressed to the final by virtue of a 10-0 two-legged win over Burton Albion. They won the first leg 9-0. Why the second was needed is anyone’s guess. Chelsea, admittedly, beat Tottenham Hotspur in a ding-dong cup tie but there was not the same reaction by Spurs fans as when they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Crystal Palace.
As far back as the quarter-finals, City played Eric Garcia, a 19-year-old Spaniard, in defence, John Stones, a defender, in midfield, and Brahim Diaz and Phil Foden against Leicester City, a previous Premier League champion. When Chelsea beat Liverpool in the third round, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino were on the bench. Daniel Sturridge started up front.
In 2017-18, a number of round draws were made on foreign soil, with the draw for the third round taking place in Beijing, the capital of China, at 11:15 local time. For those in Britain, the draw took place at 4:15 am. The first round draw this time around took place in Vietnam.
It is perhaps of little surprise, then, that the Carabao Cup has long been seen as something of a distraction and the scheduling does absolutely nothing to change that reputation.
Liverpool and Manchester United will attract mammoth viewing figures across the world. Both sides are widely supported at home and abroad and there is the intrigue of seeing whether United will do neighbours City a favour. The cup final cannot hope to reach those numbers.
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This is a competition named after an energy drink that no one has ever been seen taking a sip of, but even so, there is a trophy to be won.
And what is this game if not about glory and title wins and days in the sun?
There is a rich narrative tapestry surrounding this Carabao Cup final. Maurizio Sarri is under intense pressure at Chelsea and he could relieve much of it with a win at Wembley. Pep Guardiola is chasing perfection, his team are still in four cup competitions and they could win every single one of them. They would become the first team to do the quadruple, and the Carabao Cup – which they won last season – plays a key part in that. That is not to mention that City thumped Chelsea 6-0 in the Premier League only this month. Can Chelsea come back from that?
At the end of the day, it does not appear that many laymen care. Certainly, the FA does not appear to give a hoot. The Sky Sports listings on the day will give fans 30 minutes of build-up, including advertising breaks. The Liverpool game will have over an hour.
City and Chelsea fans will pack into Wembley. They will look to see their players lift the first trophy of the season. There will be fireworks after the 90 minutes and, with the two teams on the pitch, likely during it too. Confetti will rain down as one of the captains lifts the trophy. Fans will sing their songs, they will enjoy themselves, they will see another trophy added to the bulging cabinet. That is, we are always told, the point of it all.
This game matters. And it should matter to more than just the teams involved in it. But it doesn’t. Manchester United and Liverpool will grab the headlines on the day and likely the week after.
It should not be a surprise. But it is truly demeaning to the tournament and those fans who have travelled up and down the country watching their sides play in it.
The Carabao Cup is irreparably damaged. Perhaps it already was. But this may well be the final nail in the coffin.