The League Cup (or Carabao cup if you insist on using the name of the latest merry-go-round sponsor), divides opinion among fans. On one hand, it’s football, we love football, and therefore we love the League Cup. On the other, it seems so obviously the least important of all top flight competitions, providing neither the glamour of Europe nor the ‘magic’ of the FA Cup. In an ever more competitive and packed season, a lot of managers might quietly wish it didn’t exist…
But if it sounds like I’m suggesting we all do something else with our Tuesday nights and give Fulham vs Norwich a miss, you’re not getting out of your obligations that easily. Infact, you could argue that the League Cup is more significant for us now than at any point in recent memory.
There are a few reasons for this. Most obviously, we’ve been yo-yoing around like a bouncy ball for the last five years, with every season either a promotion push or relegation battle. Now that we have had a season of stability and are (hopefully) a bit more settled, we can start to think properly about cup competitions.
More importantly, in the longer term the League Cup will prove very important for clubs like Fulham, as going the distance in a cup might become the only feasible way of playing European football again. In the old days there was a ‘top 4’ in the premier league, which gradually became a ‘top 6’. Now, in the era of Newcastle, we are looking at a ‘top 7’, and given the extraordinary rise of Brighton, perhaps even a ‘top 8’. The days of going on a bit of a run and ending up in sixth or seventh may well be over. It is great for English football that the Premier League is so red hot at the moment, but this is undoubtedly a painful trend for clubs like ours. We want a long term Premier League future and want it to become about more than just fighting relegation. Those European spaces were always the special carrot for small teams who punched above their weight to play towards.
If that carrot becomes nigh impossible, throwing ourselves into cup competitions can become the path to adventure. Our domestic cup record has been woeful in recent years – bar last years’ mini run which ended in a blaze of carnage. Let’s recapture the cup spirit and push as hard as we can for Wembley. Beating Tottenham and then losing to Norwich would of course be the Fulhamish thing to do, but we don’t have to always be doomed to Fulhamish-ness.
It’s also worth noting that of the 17 Premier League sides left in the competition, 10 of them drew each other in the next round:
Manchester United vs Crystal Palace
Aston Villa vs Everton
Brentford vs Arsenal
Chelsea vs Brighton
Newcastle vs Manchester City
They’ll be some clubs focusing on the title or top 4, others battling for survival and the likes of Brighton, West Ham and Newcastle taking on Europe which means squads have to be rotated and no doubt second string sides fielded in this competition. With a bit of luck along the way and a few cup shocks, this is the kind of opportunity where a club like Fulham could sneak under the radar and find themselves with a genuine chance of doing something special.
On a side note, it will be nice to finally play Norwich, who have been switching places with us every season for the last four years, meaning we went through the same yo-yo experience but never actually played. We’ve beaten them once already by being the ones who finally managed to stay in the Premier League. Now let’s beat them on the pitch.
In Marco we trust to select a strong enough side to get the job done on Wednesday night. With players like Rodak, Castagne, Bassey, Cairney and Iwobi to name a few, we have enough depth in the squad to have a real go without compromising Premier League duties. But do I want to see 11 changes? No. Let’s go for it and in return we will dare to dream that Fulham can go the distance. COYW!