We aren’t meant to care about the League Cup. Whatever it’s latest incarnation, the League Cup is watched because there is simply nothing else to watch on dark, damp autumnal evenings.
Occasionally it throws up a classic, but often it is a tale of teams with weak, young squads and managers who would much rather be focusing their resources on any other competition. Crippled by its own reputation, damaged by detrimental comments from certain managers and forever living in the shadow of the FA Cup – the League Cup will never be in the forefront of the media or clubs’ consideration.
That, for Wednesday night at least, is certainly going to change. It is not only the prospect of a Manchester derby that whets the appetite. It is a Manchester derby that means so, so much to both teams and it of course brings another instalment in the much-publicised Jose Mourinho versus Pep Guardiola soap opera. The whole occasion is a cocktail of excitement, drama and chaos.
Recent results, for both sides, make it more than the centrepiece over-dramatised fixture that it would otherwise have been, however.
Since their first meeting this season, the two clubs have struggled. Guardiola and Mourinho are being questioned early on in their respective tenures, far earlier than many would have expected. A match that could have been a youth team face-off has become something far greater than this individual occasion. Respective selections will still be intriguing, but the inflated importance of an EFL Cup game will force each manager’s hands to name teams of relative League Cup strength.
Manchester derbies will always attract hype from across the globe, although EFL Cup clashes will seldom be this important. Natural instinct is to turn a blind-eye to whatever happens at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, but – regardless of the competition – the implications of the result, and performances, will be severe. Another shoddy defensive display will bring doubt on the careers of some Manchester United defenders, while Guardiola’s side are scouring the ground for their first victory in over a month.
These are the sort of fixtures that could change the perception of the League Cup. Year-on-year there is usually only a handful of teams who are treating it as a valuable opportunity to lift a trophy or qualify for European football. Two managers whose whole being is based on success in league and European football are forced to take this midweek, perhaps unwanted, match seriously. The need for a strong performance is the superior requirement for Mourinho and Guardiola.
We are forced to care about the EFL Cup this week. Mourinho and Guardiola are forced to care, too. Both clubs are on the verge of crises and their performances in this game could have enormous impacts for their following fixtures, whether that be in a positive or negative manner.