During the past week in England, France and probably a few other countries, a series of football matches have been played in the equivalent versions of the league cup but with various levels of interest displayed. One common feature appears to have been the fielding of several weakened teams which raises the question as to the importance of these midweek cup competitions.
A Capital One Cup match on Wednesday between Newcastle United and Manchester City is a case in point. Played before a crowd of less than 34,000, City won the match after extra-time but not before 10 changes had been made to their starting eleven from the previous weekend. 50,000 would have watched a similar Premier League encounter.
Newcastle manager also fielded several fringe players as he attempted to rest players ahead of their crucial Premier League clash with Chelsea a few days later. A member of the Newcastle hierarchy had even implied that the league campaign was more important than the cup competitions.
With the television money and revenue involved in being a Premier League team, and even more available for competing in the Champions League, it is little wonder that teams treat these earlier rounds as a means of allowing other squad players some first team action.
Gone are the days when a League Cup tie in England was treated as a serious step on the way to participating in a dream Wembley final. A good crowd atmosphere was always anticipated and the thrill of a cup competition much in evidence.
Today, the league cups are becoming no more than a sideshow, to be taken seriously once the quarter and semi-final stages are reached. Until then, they provide the opportunity to offer playing time for fringe members who would otherwise be champing at the bit in reserve football. They use the occasion to try to impress the manager with their positive attitude, but often in front of a half-empty stadium.
On a more positive note, these competitions can allow lower league clubs to test their mettle against the more high-profile teams who may not treat the contests with similar respect. Shocks can happen, none more so than Bradford reaching the Capital One Cup final last season.
Similarly in France, Ligue 2 team Auxerre defeated third placed Ligue 1 team Lille who appeared more interested in their forthcoming match with second placed Monaco, and duly fielded a below strength starting eleven.
While the financial incentives remain prioritised with the league campaigns, the cup competitions may continue to play a secondary role played in front of an increasingly apathetic audience, starved of watching the true first team players in action.
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