As much of an annoyance as it might have been, how much longer can Premier League clubs be expected to juggle a second domestic cup competition, in a fixture list that becomes ever more demanding?
The better team for much of the 90 minutes played, Bernd Leno enjoying an inspired evening pulling off a string of fine saves, there were plenty of plus points to Liverpool’s performance on Thursday night.
Williams, both Neco and Rhys, played well, Marko Grujic continues to be an interesting concept, Adrian didn’t deserve to be on the losing side, Takumi Minamino grows into his Liverpool career the more he plays and a first start for Diogo Jota was never going to be anything other than useful.
Liverpool went out of the competition, but a defeat on penalties can shade positives as much as it can illuminate negatives. Those positives can’t be cancelled out, however.
Yet, every time that Liverpool take to the field in the League Cup, I’m left with a nagging suspicion that we won’t see such games for much longer.
In a footballing world where the shadow of a European Super League regularly looms large, and the birth of the UEFA Europa Conference League is fast approaching, by the time you throw in the ludicrous entity that is the UEFA Nations League, then football overkill has reached a ridiculous new threshold.
European Demands to Increase
While a defined pan-European league might ultimately prove to be a step too far, even for the appetite of the clubs that dine at the top table of the game, there is little doubt that for a club like Liverpool, the demands of European football will only increase, rather than decrease or simply maintain their current status.
Eventually, I can see a day where European and domestic fixtures will be finely balanced, as opposed to what we currently see: a system that amounts to marginally over three domestic games per one European fixture.
Money talks and a financially draining global pandemic will hasten football’s urgency for making as much money as it possibly can. In such an environment, Liverpool away at Lincoln City just won’t survive the landscaping.
English, and indeed Scottish football is an oddity, in that they continue to operate with two domestic cup competitions. It is akin to insisting that cars drive on the left, when most of the continent drives on the right instead.
France, in a portent of what is likely to come, has finally decommissioned their own version of the League Cup, the Coupe de la Ligue, its last winners being Paris Saint-Germain, who mind-numbingly won it for the sixth time in seven seasons.
This isn’t Sean Dyche talking, by the way, but even for struggling EFL clubs, there is little to be gained from the League Cup anymore. By the time the biggest clubs enter the draw at the third round, there are very few teams left in the tournament that reside below the second tier.
A better future for the League Cup would be to make it a tournament that is contested only by EFL teams, in turn doing away with the EFL Trophy, a competition that has opened itself up for widespread mockery after allowing the under-23 teams of Premier League clubs to take part.
Football is approaching a crossroads, from which some clubs may no longer be able to continue.
Bury have been expelled from the league and exist only in name, while very recent league club Macclesfield Town have sadly dissipated. Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic hang on in hope rather than certainty, although the latter has now identified a preferred bidder for a potential change of ownership.
Restructuring is badly needed at the top, middle and bottom ends of the league pyramid.
There needs to be less domestic football towards the top, there needs to be greater definition to the Championship and League One centre-ground, while with such difficulties being experienced by so many clubs, it seems absolutely insane to me that national leagues operate at the fourth and fifth levels of the game.
Ease the demands on these clubs, by making those divisions regionalised ones.
You have to look at the realities at each level, and redraw the expectations put upon clubs, while maintaining a route that can take a club from the bottom rung to the top, as long as it is a climb that is sustainable.
It isn’t about the big clubs leaving the small ones behind. Make the Premier League clubs enter the FA Cup at the first round, with a rule that they can’t be drawn to play at home until the fifth round, but the League Cup needs to go.
Requirements and Reductions
Dyche has received a deserved amount of criticism for his recent comments about lower league teams, as if completely unaware that the club he manages came to within 90 minutes of dropping out of the Football League in 1987.
The teams at the top should be required to ensure the lower reaches of the game that props them up can exist, but the playing demands also need to be reduced.
Football behind closed doors really should be used as a springboard for changes that work for all clubs, the top ones included.