Ask any bookmaker, pundit, friend or tweeter and they will tell you that an EFL Cup final of Manchester United versus Liverpool is very likely. Facing rock-bottom Hull and struggling Southampton respectively, the oldest of rivals are set for a grudge match at Wembley to tussle over English football’s first trophy of the season.
Jose Mourinho has seen this trophy as his sweet relief from the hyperactivity of the Premier League previously. Jurgen Klopp has had one shot at the EFL Cup and made it to the final. Unlike many of their colleagues, these are two managers who not only respect the ugliest of English footballs trophy offspring; they crave it.
Often in the doldrums during the glamour of the Champions League, the nonstop action of the Premier League and old-fashioned romanticism of the FA Cup, the EFL Cup is disregarded as a trophy for those clubs afraid their season will be a disaster without it. That is unfair. It is a trophy regardless of its historical stature and the way that the games are scheduled makes it a competition that more teams should take seriously. It is a door left open by the strongest teams focusing on Europe and a route into Europe itself.
While neither Liverpool nor Manchester United will need a spot in the Europa League next season, Klopp and Mourinho will welcome the chance to win silverware. Opportunities are scarce throughout the course of a season and, while they both must negotiate Premier League opposition in the semi-finals first, they will both thrive under the spotlight of a bitter derby to decide the destiny of the trophy. Two of the sport’s most recognisable individuals bring enormous, yet contrasting, personalities. Add a Wembley cup final to that mix and you have the showdown to end all over-publicised showdowns.
The action, of course, will not be half as exciting, just as the infamous ‘Red Monday’ match proved earlier in the season.
Whatever is to happen in this hypothetical final, though, it would reinvigorate the competition. Two of the world’s best managers, at two of the world’s most reputable clubs, showing they care about the EFL Cup would generate huge publicity and change the approach to the competition. In these heady times for the Premier League’s top six, several managers will end the season trophyless and others may even end the season out of a job; any chance to add a Wembley visit to the calendar cannot be missed.
Pressure to lift the trophy will be high, as it is in any final, but this match would be more than just one fixture. Assuming both teams fully committed to the cause (which you have to expect in a final) it is a rebranding opportunity for the competition. A time that can enable the League Cup to reappear in the direct vision of the country’s biggest clubs rather than remaining on the periphery.
Clubs will still favour the Champions League during the early knockings of the campaign – that’s a given – but the way that the teams outside of Europe’s premier competition approach the EFL Cup can change. In fact, the squads of the Champions League sides are of such strength they should be able to spread their workloads effectively enough to push for the EFL Cup too. The last three editions of the competition have been won by a club playing in the Champions League.
Once the greatest names and clubs start to take the competition seriously – as Klopp and Mourinho are – others will quickly follow suit. Lifting the EFL Cup is no mean feat and it is high time that is recognised across English football.