20 December 2006

Thinking too much about the Carling Cup

3 out of 4 quarterfinal Carling Cup games in the books. All three were 1-0 wins; Wycombe over a dejected Charlton yesterday, Chelsea over Newcastle (1-0 for the second time in a week) and Tottenham over Southend (after extra-time) today.

Knowing the way the luck has run, chances are the draw for the next round (taking place on Saturday) will look like:

Chelsea v Liverpool/Arse
Tottenham v Wycombe

The League Cup has never been the most prestigious tournament; most European leagues have only one domestic cup competition. The FA Cup has always been the more significant, with over 130 years of history compared to less than 50. Many big clubs use the reserves for this tournament until the trophy’s in sight, and it’s why mid-table and lower division sides frequently do better than in the FA Cup.

Last 5 Winners and runners-up, with final League position in parentheses:
2002: Blackburn (10th), Tottenham (9th)
2003: Liverpool (5th), United (1st)
2004: Boro (11th), Bolton (8th)
2005: Chelsea (1st), Liverpool (5th)
2006: Man Utd (2nd), Wigan (10th)

The more things change the more they stay the same. Any way you slice it, there’s a bit of history repeating itself.

We've had big upsets (Southend over United for one), but there's always big upsets (Chelsea went out in the 3rd round last year, as did Liverpool).

There’s the lower division side on the run of the season. This year, Wycombe was lucky enough to face Charlton at the worst possible time, and they’ve made it a round farther than Doncaster did last year, but certainly can't expect any more.

There’s the requited mid-table side in the mix, who goes on to win every couple of years. I know Tottenham expected and deserved more so far this season, and have worked their way up to 7th, only 3 points behind 3rd, but their play for most of the season so far can justifiably be called mid-table. They may well prove that label wrong, there’s still more than half the league to be played, but it's where they currently sit.

There’s the underachievers who’ll use this for redemption. Arsenal and Liverpool, while they’ve clawed up to third and fourth respectively and look to continue to improve, do still seem to fit nicely here, as does Tottenham. Unfortunately, it was also the case for Liverpool in both ‘03 and ‘05.

Also merits a mention that the last two times Liverpool has reached the final, it was against the team that won the League. Let’s not focus on that they finished 5th both times.

I may be forcing a couple of circular pegs into square holes, but I can’t help notice similarities. There’s a narrative in here somewhere. Once we see the draw, and after the Liverpool/Arsenal match, we’ll see the media run with it.

I can’t really complain about predictability. The themes may recur, but the clubs differ season to season. And there’s been a fair few excellent games and surprising upsets so far this tournament.

It just amuses me to no end there seem to be the same storylines every year. Must be fate.

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