Continuity and calculated risks pay off for Carabao Cup lower leagues | Carabao Cup
IIt was a competition that gave Phil Foden the inspiration to name his French Bulldog Carabao and one in which Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jude Bellingham got their start en route to establishing themselves as key figures for club and country. . The Carabao Cup started earlier this month with Cambridge United edging Millwall, four days into the Football League season and three before the Premier League took off their sunglasses, shook their flip flops and looked back on our screens. That game at Abbey Stadium went unnoticed for most, but it offered insight into a trend that has seen a dozen Championship clubs leave the cup for lower league opposition.
The games were played, of course, as for the FA Cup, amid changes in the teams’ regular starting line-ups. For some clubs, it was a calculated risk that paid off. Championship-leading Blackburn Rovers beat Hartlepool 4-0 despite making 10 substitutions, with brothers Scott and Adam Wharton playing together for the first time, the latter making his debut aged 18. Others ended up with an egg on their face.
Luton made 11 changes but broke away from Newport County, giant killers in cup competitions in recent years who themselves made eight changes.
Sunderland also named an entirely different side for their loss to Sheffield Wednesday, who opted to make eight changes. West Bromwich Albion host Sheffield United on Thursday, with changes made. Only six of the 22 clubs in the Championship who arrived in the first round will appear in the second, although three matches have been between division rivals.
It’s all too easy to label the competition the ugly duckling of English domestic football, but the numbers suggest a more nuanced view is needed.
The 12 Championship clubs that exited at the hands of the opposition in either League One or League Two made 101 changes combined from their previous starting line-ups and their opponents 72 combined. In fact, third-tier Cambridge made more changes (nine) than second-tier Millwall (eight).
Charlton (eight-five) and Oxford (eight-seven) also thrived against Championship opposition despite making more changes than their opponent.
The numbers are also skewed slightly by Morecambe, who stayed with the same starting line-up as they beat Stoke City, who made eight changes, on penalties. Sutton United also remained unchanged but lost to MK Dons.
For Morecambe manager Derek Adams it was a simple decision.
“I just felt at this point in the season it was important to have some continuity,” said Adams, who was reappointed in February. “We have players who have just joined us and players who only had part of the pre-season with us as well. If we made eight changes, we would weaken the team and we cannot do that.
For many managers, it is a chance to give opportunities to others. “You can use it as an excuse to say you’re rotating your team, giving everyone a chance and hiding behind the fact that it’s the League Cup and you’re not going to win the competition. “says Adams. . “I’ve done it in the past. When I see managers doing it at this stage of the season, they want everyone to be happy in their team and they mean they [the players] all had an opportunity. You may feel that the league game on a Saturday is more important. It is a difficult balancing act. »
The second-round draw served up some intriguing ties. Stockport County and Grimsby Town, promoted out of the league last season, will entertain Leicester City and Nottingham Forest respectively. Fleetwood Town’s reward for beating Wigan, who made wholesale changes, is a visit from Everton.
Mark Hughes will face Blackburn, where he played and managed, with Bradford City. Tranmere v Newcastle and Bolton v Aston Villa will be televised, worth £100,000 for each host club. For rounds three to five, the TV money is increased to £125,000. For most managers of smaller clubs, the dream draw is a potentially lucrative away tie at a Premier League club as both teams win a 45% cut in gate receipts, the 10 remaining % being donated to the competition fund.
“The financial side is very important, and not just for the football side of the business,” says Adams.
Some clubs simply have their eyes on the league campaign. Cambridge and Millwall agreed to bring the game forward in the schedule – as all teams were allowed to do – to free up preparations for this week.
Others discount the competition on the basis of a £100,000 prize, small fry compared to the FA Cup, whose winners receive £1million. Many are wary of the schedule, with Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs guaranteed to play at least 51 games at the start of the season.
Morecambe will face Fleetwood on Saturday before trips to Bolton, Oxford and Rotherham, the latter in the second round of the Carabao Cup, in 10 days. “We’re looking at nine games in August, which I think is too many,” says Adams, “so I understand why a lot of clubs have made changes to those games.”