With the world of football still reeling from the weekend’s events, the attention of fans around the country shifts momentarily, if not fully, to the Carling Cup. A competition that in previous seasons has played second fiddle to various other cups dotted around the football calendar is now at the quarter final stage. Only this year, despite the inclusion of championship clubs Crystal Palace and Cardiff, the line up is perhaps the strongest in years. If all goes as it should do on paper alone, we will be left with three teams out of the four semi finalists being amongst the six elite clubs in the country.
So why all of a sudden have the big teams started to take the League Cup seriously? I feel that although there are many different answers to this question, each one is only applicable to certain clubs and the situation they find themselves in.
For instance Blackburn Rovers find themselves three matches away from a Wembley final, despite struggling greatly in the league. One cannot help but feel that such a serious attitude towards a competition that the club can seriously progress in, is partly a time buying technique for immensely under fire boss Steve Kean. But does short term in a national competition really sweeten a poor league position? You will have to ask reigning champions Birmingham City that. The fans will beg to differ and I assume that even with a win on Tuesday night against Cardiff City-and in subsequent semi final games, Kean’s managerial scalp will still be in demand come next Saturday.
In a similar position is the young Chelsea manager Villas Boas, who will be hoping that a victorious League cup campaign can supercharge his ambitions of a successful reign at Stamford Bridge, just as the 2005 Final win did for a certain other Portuguese manager, but we’ve heard all of the comparisons before. Liverpool, who were the beaten finalists under Mourinho’s rule in 2005, are the next hurdle on the long road to success.
On the other hand, Arsene Wenger and Kenny Dalglish’s jobs would appear to be reasonably, maybe even totally safe after solid starts to the season. However neither team has won a trophy in what for such big clubs seems an absolute age. Year on year both expectation and frustration grows as their trophy cabinets gain nothing but dust over the 9 months of each season. However this season seems to be the one in which both of these teams take a more professional approach towards the Carling Cup, as they look to sooth the wounds of long awaiting fans.
If Arsenal are to claim the cup this year, they will first have to push past an in form City side whose huge strength in depth and subsequently never ending supply of fresh players justifies nothing but success in the schedule-straining competition. The Carling Cup will have perhaps become of even greater significance to the league leaders after last week’s result in Italy seriously damaged their Champion’s League hopes. With a mission of all encompassing success, it is unlikely that City will be taking any prisoners come Tuesday’s face off.
It promises to be a round of big name match ups, potential upsets and one of extreme pressure on certain managers. If only we could fully allow ourselves to focus on such on the field matters.