As the third round of the FA Cup once again begins to come into view on the footballing horizon, it is possible to detect a subtle change in the way Premier League sides, at least the big clubs, view the domestic cup competitions.
For the last decade and more, the cups, and in particular the Capital One Cup, were given second priority by the top sides behind the league.
Everyone form elite managers to armchair experts lambasted English football’s crammed fixture schedule and the competition was seen almost as a nuisance until the later stages at least.
A glance at this year’s quarter finals and the four teams that progressed to the semis suggests that something has changed or has at least begun to. Liverpool, Stoke, Everton and Man City remain.
The Potters in 11th in the top flight are the lowest-placed team still in the hat. It is not just the status of these four teams that catches the eye but also the means by which they entered the last four. It seems that the top flight clubs are increasingly keen to progress.
Everton for example, have fielded a full strength side in every round with the one exception being that Roberto Martinez has chosen to give reserve keeper Joel Robles a turn in goal.
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Mark Hughes at Stoke has had a similar approach, with his cup line up’s similar to those put out in the league.
The abundance of talent in Manchester City’s squad allows them to almost field two different sides of the highest quality but Pellegrini has also taken the competition seriously and not just in the later rounds.
His team which started the tie against Sunderland back in September, featured Sterling, Toure, De Bruyne and Aguero.
Jurgen Klopp clearly views the competition as a chance to win a trophy in his first season and it is not just the Premier League sides left in that have had this view. The Southampton side which capitulated against Klopp’s men in the quarter final, was virtually their full strength league outfit.
Looking back over the last three seasons, Sheffield United’s appearance in the semis is the only instance of a team from lower down the pyramid infiltrating the later stages of the competition.
This is a stark reversal of a trend which was evident throughout the preceding decade. Sides from outside the top division were regularly able to progress right to the business end of the tournament, due to an apparent lack of desire to do so, shown by those above them.
Bradford, Cardiff, Ipswich, Burnley, Derby, Wigan and even Wycombe Wanderers all reached at least the last four between 2004 and 2013, despite not being in the Premier League at the time of their respective successes.
Recent developments suggest that it could be a while, before we again see the likes of Birmingham take home the trophy, or Bradford City make it to Wembley, having scalped a few big boys in the process.
It could of course, be argued the reason the top sides have begun to re-assert themselves in what is after all, the least important of the major competitions, is that the gap between such clubs and the rest of the country’s footballing structure has widened still over the last few years.
The league tables themselves, would seem to suggest otherwise. Promoted Championship sides have done well in the top flight in recent years and the top flight itself is more competitive than ever.
There has been a definite change in the approach of managers towards the League Cup and their team selections reflect a desire to progress.
Arsenal got to at least the last four for three successive years between 2005 and 2008 with Arsene Wenger notorious for using the games to brood youngsters, even fielding a much weakened team in the final against Chelsea in 2007.
Wenger continues to be the man who treats the matches as an opportunity to rest key men but even the Frenchman has begun to warm up, with some bigger names featuring in his selections this year. Now though, the Arsenal boss is almost unique as his counterparts have shown a radical shift in their mind set.
So what has triggered this change?
It may be the fact that a victory in the final offers a guaranteed route into Europe but it is more likely just the lure of the silverware itself.
Gradually over the last few years it has become apparent that managers have begun to come round to the idea that a trophy can go a long way towards making up for a substandard league position.
Everton’s run in Europe last term came at the expense of their league form but Martinez was happy to plough on in pursuit of the prize, confident that his job was safe, even with the side in mid table.
Hughes is happy for his key players to get Capital One action this term even if it means they might pick up an injury ruling them out of a portion of the league campaign.
David Moyes perused the trophy with Manchester United back in the 2013-14 season, presumably hoping it would save his job as United floundered in the league. It seems that the lesser of English football’s two cups has gone full circle in the eyes of the men who pick the teams at the top of the game.
There is no doubt this will please supporters who crave a bit of silverware for their side. It has taken a while, but gradually the realisation that the impact of a winning day out at Wembley should not be underestimated, has hit home.