The League Cup may have become the runt of English football’s prize litter – especially while the biggest clubs fight on other fronts, almost without exception viewed as more coveted than the Carabao – but for the first time in a decade, the first trophy of the domestic season features four clubs at the semi-final stage all desperate to get their hands on it.
Manchester City have made the Carabao Cup their own in recent years, winning it six times in nine years. Liverpool are the current holders, while City’s dominance was interrupted briefly by Manchester United in 2017 and Chelsea in 2015.
Not since 2013, when Swansea swept aside Bradford City to claim their first major trophy, has the winner truly cherished the League Cup. Since the Bantams and Swans’ big day out, the Carabao has been claimed and almost immediately shoved in a cupboard while the victors continued their pursuit of shinier pots. That squad rotation has become a factor in actual finals illustrates just how dimly it has been viewed. Such has been their authority in this competition, you can perhaps understand the apathy at City.
This year, though, the League Cup is likely to highlight the season for Wembley’s victor, be it Manchester United, Newcastle, Nottingham Forest or Southampton.
All four semi-finalists have other things on their mind, of course. The two Uniteds are keen to stay the course on their way to the Champions League while Forest and Saints fret over the prospect of relegation. But ahead of the first legs, with the returns to come next week, there is no sense of any club prioritising the Premier League.
In Newcastle’s case, perhaps the opposite is true. Eddie Howe played his strongest possible side in the quarter-final win over Leicester, with the Toon Army’s wall of scarves an indication of their desire for a trip to Wembley. Despite their dizzying position in the Premier League table, that 2-0 triumph over the Foxes was arguably the most prestigious occasion of the Magpies’ season so far. Certainly if we’re only considering the post-World Cup period.
— Carabao Cup (@Carabao_Cup) January 16, 2023
Of course, a place in next season’s Champions League would be see Newcastle arrive at one of their destinations under the Saudi owners ahead of schedule, but for those there before the takeover, the significance of a cup triumph cannot be overstated. Nobody below retirement age has seen…