Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp sees opportunity in the Carabao Cup
Premier League sides feature in tonight’s third round ties
The League Cup gets sort of serious tonight as the big boys join the competition at the third round stage.
Of course, it’s a long time since it was officially called the League Cup: 1981 to be precise, when English football’s secondary cup tournament was renamed The Milk Cup after the Milk Marketing Board became its first sponsor.
More than 35 years later and those quaint days of the Milk Cup have long since faded into history. The latest sponsor of the cup is Carabao, proof of how English football has changed in recent decades.
If in 1981 you had predicted that the league cup would in 2017 be sponsored by a Thai energy drinks firm you would have been laughed out of Wembley.
In those days English football was, well, English, with barely a foreigner to be seen in the top-flight, other than the wildly exotic Argentine pair of Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa at Tottenham.
Even when the Milk Marketing Board’s sponsorship of the league cup turned sour in 1986 the competition remained resolutely British with Littlewoods and then Rumbelows the next sponsors.
Since then Coca-Cola, Worthington, Carling [at nine seasons, the longest sponsor] and Capital One have all taken turns in trying to inject some pizzazz into a tournament that has always struggled to capture the public’s imagination.
That was even the case in the ’80s and ’90s, but since the start of the millennium the league cup become increasingly irrelevant to the top teams with most clubs using the competition as little more than an opportunity to blood some youngsters and allow their big names a night off.
That won’t change with the arrival of Carabao, who take on the sponsorship of a competition that last season was known as the EFL Cup because no one could be found to put their name to the tournament.
This evening sees a number of Premier League clubs make their bow - with Leicester’s clash against Liverpool the pick of the ties - but Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has already made it clear the Carabao Cup is low on his list of priorities.
“The pressure is to win the Premier League or Champions League,” said the Spurs boss, whose side host Championship side Barnsley tonight at Wembley Stadium.
“I’d love to win a cup for our fans but Tottenham must build a project for the Premier League and Champions League. If we forget those two, it’s a big mistake. For a big team to win trophies, it means the Premier League or Champions League.
“Wigan won the FA Cup [in 2013]. Where is Wigan now? League One. That is the most important example.”
Pochettino is clearly a realist and not a romantic, and his view of the Carabao Cup as an unwelcome distraction differs from that of Jurgen Klopp.
The Liverpool manager takes his side to the King Power Stadium this evening, and the Reds return on Saturday for their Premier League encounter.
Without a win this month, Klopp believes the Carabao Cup offers his chance to put their recent slump behind them. “I don’t feel pressure, I feel opportunity, the chance to do something really good,” he said at the pre-match press conference.
“It’s a big competition. I don’t care how people see it or whatever. As long as we can line up strong, we will line up strong… I’ve said this a few times: it’s not about going with a ‘weakened team’ it’s about giving other players a few opportunities to play football, with a plan to win the game.”
Tonight’s fixtures (7.45pm unless stated)
- Aston Villa vs. Middlesbrough
- AFC Bournemouth vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
- Brentford vs. Norwich City
- Bristol City vs. Stoke City
- Burnley vs. Leeds United
- Crystal Palace vs. Huddersfield Town
- Leicester City vs. Liverpool
- West Ham United vs. Bolton Wanderers
- Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Bristol Rovers
- Reading vs. Swansea City (8pm)
- Tottenham Hotspur vs. Barnsley (8pm)