Here we Go! The EFL Cup Final

Southampton and Man Utd fans will walk up Wembley Way this Sunday to battle it out for the 1st trophy on offer in the English season. Both sides will obviously be desperate to lift the cup but for varying reasons…

We will start on the south coast with the impressively run Southampton. Claude Puel makes a cup final within months of taking over from Ronald Koeman and with The Saints not having lifted a major honour since 1971, can immediately write his name into St Mary’s folklore.

The occasion feels like a culmination of years of re-building and re-structuring of a club who found themselves in League One just 7 years ago. Season after season the fans have seen their players sold or managers poached leaving them to worry about slipping back down the leagues. Worry they will not as they arrive in London with the hope of leaving with the EFL Cup in their possession.

Head a few hundred miles north and you will arrive at the global giant that is Manchester United, now managed by serial trophy collector Jose Mourinho. A victory this weekend buys the special one breathing space whilst he attempts to steady a ship that has been in choppy waters since Sir Alex vacated his throne.

With league position seemingly stuck at 6th for the time being, he’ll want to add to LVG’s FA Cup from last term. A win would leave The Reds holding both domestic knockout competition titles and firing a warning shot that they are still a force despite lack of serious league challenge.

Zlatan and Pogba would want that winners’ medal draped around their necks to assist in justifying their existence as well as going a little way to repaying the significant outlays the club made to secure their signatures. All-time record scorer Wayne Rooney can also add to his deserved legendary status by adding an extra number to the honours column before any departure in the seemingly near future.

So who is going to win on the day?

After what is sure to be a hard fought contest, we are opting for a Man Utd victory! Southampton will miss their leader and chief defensive organiser Virgil Van Dijk too much at the back, asking stand in centre halves to deal with a free scoring Ibrahimovic is something Puel will no doubt be having sleepless nights over.

The Saints however will trouble a rocky Old Trafford defence with the various attacking threats they possess right throughout their squad. The tricky Tadic, to the menace of Shane Long (perhaps off the bench) will keep Smalling and his troops on their toes.

As usual, in these monumental games, the 1st goal will be crucial but we feel Man Utd will win the key battles all over the pitch and emerge victorious.

Prediction – Southampton 1-2 Man Utd

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EFL Cup image sourced from; cup.efl.com

The Scottish League Cup

This week has seen a re-invention of the Scottish League Cup.

Scottish-League-Cup-Gets-Revamped

Instead of the worldwide used format of draw teams to play against each other over 90 minutes where the winner advances to the next round we now have group stages, bonus points and important induction of highland and lowland league teams.

So here goes…

There are 8 stages of the revamped tournament:

  • A new group stage format for the first round.
  • 8 groups of 5 teams, playing each other once in round-robin format.
  • Group games to take place on 16th, 20th, 23rd, 27th and 30th July.
  • Group stage involves all 38 SPFL teams not involved in European qualifiers, plus winners of both Highland League and Lowland League.
  • Group stage draw seeded and, where practicable, regionalised. 1 Premiership team in each group.
  • Drawn matches in group stage go to penalty shoot-out, with bonus point for winners.
  • 8 group winners and 4 best runners-up progress to 2nd round where they are joined by the 4 teams involved in European football.
  • Straight knockout formula, as presently exists, from the round of 16 with no seeded draws.

But just what does it all mean?

It means Summer football first and foremost and with being Scottish, that is something required given recent Euro and World Cup qualifying campaigns.

It means a Winter break during January, a chance for pitches to stay in decent condition for the end of season push and break for smaller squads and part-time players.

The Scottish game needs change and has done for years, hopefully this will be a move in the right direction. Perhaps we can look forward to a new tournament and start to grow the game in a country that has a fantastic tradition.

Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen and Dundee United in the past few decades have all reached major European Finals and now the Country has been overtaken by the Moldova’s and Armenia’s of this world when it comes to the early stages of European qualifiers.

Well done to the SFA and SPFL for agreeing to a change but please please please don’t stop here.
Scottish League Cup image sourced from; www.sports.stv.tv

What’s Wrong with the League Cup?

This week we have yet again seen most of the “big” clubs bow out of the league cup with little more than a whimper.

Arsenal and Manchester United struggled to generate meaningful attempts on goal, never mind coming close to scoring one against 2 championship clubs in the shape of Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough. Yes, both teams are in decent form, but still lower league opposition none the less.

Wednesday and Middlesbrough were both set up prepared to defend but both played some good football and were both worthy winners in my opinion.

The Arsenal back 4 consisted of full internationals which between them have more than 250 caps yet they were torn apart at times by Ross Wallace and Barry Bannan, 2 players who you could argue are drinking in the last chance saloon.

Whilst Man United never looked like breaking down a stubborn Boro side with the “next generation players” of Lingaard, Wilson and Perreira.

Arsneal-crash-out-of-league-cup

So what are the main points here?

  • Why only use the league cup to play these youngsters? How will they learn to get better after these defeats?
  • Do you honestly expect to win the competition with the squads you choose?
  • Whose decision is it to prioritise competitions?

As a dedicated and football loving fan I know how special cup final days are, I don’t remember the years where my teams finished 3rd which guaranteed European football, or the fact that we were knocked out in the early stages.

I, like most others, can name the dates and years in which we reached the finals and even more so the ones in which we were triumphant! The days where our skipper lifted that trophy above his head and the roar and buzz that it created, days that will live with me forever.

These are the memories and feelings that the likes of LVG and Arsene Wenger are choosing to deny their fans.

It’s about time domestic success was treated equally as important as Champions League cash.

Good luck to the 8 teams remaining in the competition and here’s hoping someone creates a lifelong memory.

Birmingham-League-Cup-Winners-2011

Arsenal verses Sheffield Wednesday Image sourced from; www.telegraph.co.uk
Birmingham League Cup Winners 2011 Image sourced from; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/