Piers Barber defends the League Cup and reminds us of the competition’s best ever games…
The poor old League Cup. Everyone’s least favourite English football competition has been on the receiving end of all sorts of abuse in recent years, consistently blamed for causing pesky fixture congestion and derided for only featuring the reserve squads of the nation’s leading teams.
Yet the tournament, which was founded (for some reason or another) in 1960, has far more to offer than this conventional ‘narrative’ tends to suggest. In fact, in recent years it has arguable staged far more entertaining and attacking fixtures than much of what the FA Cup, it’s older and more respected sibling, has had to offer. It’s also repeatedly proved vital to kick-starting a manager’s tenure or getting one out of a barren spell – just ask Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson. And, as Birmingham City and Swansea City have proved in recent years, it can bring glory to supporters normally unaccustomed to winning anything.
So in honour of this weird and wonderful trophy, here are some of the best games the competition has hosted in recent years. Warning: very bad defending features throughout.
Reading 5-7 Arsenal (AET) (4th round, 2012/13)
This game from last year’s competition brought goal after goal after goal, eventually resulting in a crazy win for an Arsenal side which had been 4-0 down just before half time. As one of the more senior players in a side featuring a whole host of Arsenal youngsters, Theo Walcott hauled the game back in the favour of the Gunners, bagging a memorable hatrick in the process. The defending from both sides was enjoyably appalling all night: even Marouane Chamakh managed to notch twice in extra time.
West Ham United 4-0 Manchester United (Quarter-final, 2010/11)
On a snowy night at Upton Park, West Ham turned in a remarkable performance to thrash the visiting Manchester United, winner of the last two League Cups in a row. Although United’s team included both Gabriel Obertan and the infamous Bebe, it was hardly a weak team, still featuring considerable talents such as Ryan Giggs, Javier Hernandez and Darren Fletcher. Yet United were undone by two goals from former youth prospect Jonathan Spector, with Carlton Cole also notching a brace. Ultimately, though, West Ham crashed out to eventual winners Birmingham City in the next round and, to make matters worse, were relegated at the end of the season.
Manchester United 3-1 Manchester City (agg. 4-3) (Semi-final 2nd leg, 2009/10)
This phenomenal derby game ignited all sorts of subplots: it saw another Carlos Tevez return to Old Trafford after his controversial summer departure (the striker would score an incredible backheel volley in this game), the reuniting of rival supporters following crowd trouble in the first the first leg (which City had won 2-1) and a follow-up to the 4-3 league game earlier in the season (when Michael Owen’s last minute goal had snatched all three points at the death for United). In a feisty and full-blooded affair, Wayne Rooney, in the midst of one of his characteristic devastating purple patches, dramatically snatched a win for United in the last minute of injury time, rising well to meet a Ryan Giggs cross. Cue a distraught Mr.Tevez and considerable delirium within Old Trafford.
Liverpool 3 – 6 Arsenal (Quarter-final, 2007/08)
The Brazilian Julio Baptista was the star of this bizarre game at Anfield, which saw Liverpool concede six goals at home for the first time in 77 years. For Liverpool, only Steven Gerrard and Jerzy Dudek survived from the team that had lost 3-1 to Arsenal the weekend before, with manager Roy Hodgson choosing to give youngsters such as Lee Peltier and Gabriel Paletta rare starts in the cup. Baptista went on to score four, also missing a penalty. Liverpool were stunned, although did manage two consolation goals, one of which, a Gerrard volley, was easily the finest of the match. Baptista would go on to notch twice against Tottenham in the semi, although his team ultimately lost 2-1 to Chelsea in the final.
Liverpool 2-3 Chelsea (Final, 2004/05)
This was Jose Mourinho’s first trophy as Chelsea manager, and, as is now to be expected, it came about in dramatic and controversial fashion. With his side having trailed for most of the game, Mourinho was sent off for taunting Liverpool’s fans with a silencing gesture after Steven Gerrard had scored an own goal to level the scores in the 79th minute. The Chelsea manager watched on a television as Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman both scored extra-time goals to clinch victory in an enthralling final. The win kick started Chelsea’s trophy charge under Mourinho: in the next two seasons, they won the Premier League title twice.
Liverpool 2-2 Northampton Town (Northampton Town win 4-2 on penalties) (3rd round, 2010/11)
The League Cup has seen its fair share of epic penalty shootouts, with Arsenal’s loss to Bradford City in last season’s quarter final a recent case in point. One of the greatest penalty upsets, though, was surely Liverpool’s surrender to Northampton Town, who at the time sat in 17th position in League Two. Northampton went ahead in extra time, but were pegged back by a David Ngog goal late on which took the game to penalties. Ngog and Nathan Eccleston both missed their spot kicks in front of the Kop, thus consigning Liverpool to one of their most embarrassing defeats in recent years. It was only the second time in their history that they had been eliminated to a side from a lower division in the competition.