In the football league, the League Cup, which has had many names and sponsors over the last few years, has usually been taken quite seriously, particularly so the further down the football league you go.
Why? Well it’s a chance to play teams of a higher calibre and the potential of travelling to Old Trafford, Anfield, The Emirates and so on proves an exciting prospect for the club, as well as the fans.
As a supporter of a lower league team, when you make it to the third round, you’re eager for an away day at Stamford Bridge. It’s an opportunity of playing some of the country’s finest.
However, at the other end of the spectrum there has been a consistent idea of Premier League sides treating the League Cup as more of an unnecessary burden, rather than an exciting opportunity to lift some silverware. This point has been evidently backed up in the past by league giants fielding sides with players who are unlikely to see the light of day during a Premier League clash.
However, last year Jose Mourinho, in his first season back at the Chelsea helm, said that he would be taking the League Cup seriously and that it deserves the glamorous reputation it once had.
There have been plenty of shocks and surprises in the League Cup but you could argue that people nationwide sat up and took notice of its rewards when Birmingham City snatched the cup Arsenal fans must have thought they already had in the trophy cabinet back in 2011. The following season, despite relegation to the Championship, Birmingham City were competing in Europe. Wigan Athletic, who also followed suite, and Swansea City tagged along – three teams which, in their respective seasons, wouldn’t have expected to be playing group matches in the Europa League.
I wouldn’t argue the point that it has a positive knock-on effect on league form, as Birmingham were fortunate to escape relegation to League One in May and Wigan, despite reaching the play-offs last season, haven’t massively set the world alight since and are suffering a poor start to the 2014/15 season.
Mid-week didn’t provide any huge shocks, despite there being some in the previous rounds. Most notably was MK Dons brushing aside Manchester United 4-0, but there were some impressive squads, and performances, from most of the Premier League competitors. Manchester City thrashed an in-form Sheffield Wednesday who, up until Wednesday night, had the best defensive record in the Championship. Frank Lampard, Edin Dzeko, Jesus Navas, James Milner and Yaya Toure all started for the Cup holders, in a game that ended 7-0.
Liverpool struggled against another in-form Championship side in Middlesbrough, who helped to make history with the longest League Cup shoot-out since its creation, which followed an entertaining 2-2 draw. Raheem Sterling, Lazar Markovic, Lucas Leiva, Mamadou Sakho and Adam Lallana all started for The Reds, while Everton also fielded a side which suggested Roberto Martinez was serious about lifting the League Cup in March. That possibility was left in tatters as a convincing Swansea side won 3-0.
Another convincing side, who appear to be hitting good form, are Southampton. The South Coast club got a deserved victory at Arsenal, with both sides fielding plenty of players who are also likely to start on the weekend.
The only teams who opted for a generally weaker starting XI were the four teams in the other Premier League match-ups; Crystal Palace, Newcastle, West Brom and Hull City. Both Albion and Hull fielded an almost entirely different starting eleven to the previous league weekend, whereas Newcastle and Palace had a blend of debutants and first-team players.
While this shows that there are still some sides who don’t rank the League Cup very high up on their list of priorities, but with teams like Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool all fielding strong teams in order to advance into the later stages of the competition, there is clearly a heightened importance concerning the League Cup, even for the strongest of sides.
While it is easy to focus on the Premier League giants, domestic cups are also a great opportunity for Football League teams to show their worth. The fourth round will offer that chance to Shrewsbury, Bournemouth and Brighton who have all drawn Premier League opponents in Chelsea, West Brom and Tottenham respectively.
The most glamorous tie of the three is, of course, Shrewsbury vs Chelsea, and after having the privilege of watching Shrewsbury, a side on top of their game right now, comfortably beat Blackpool 1-0 in the first round, I wouldn’t be so quick to rule out a shock win for the League Two club.
It may be best to point out that they have also beaten Leicester and Norwich in the process, which is, based on current form, a lot more impressive than beating Blackpool, whose first three points this season look more likely to come from a speeding ticket for the team coach driver, rather than a win..
Micky Mellon has completely revitalised Shrewsbury Town, who were relegated with a whimper from League One last season. With a whole new set-up on and off the the field, the future looks bright in Shropshire. Looking back on Bradford’s heroics in the League Cup two seasons ago, when they beat Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa to reach the final, should provide encouragment to Shrewsbury, who are also favourites to gain promotion from League Two.
The League Cup is beginning to get to the stage where lower league teams are rare, particularly due to the renewed interest of the Premier League giants, but there will hopefully still be plenty of shocks in store.
The fourth round fixtures will take place on the 28-29 October.