Swansea City beat Bradford City in the final of the Capital One Cup last season and that might be a reflection of how high the competition is in the list of priorities for the major clubs in the Premier League. However, for two of the sides that will be hoping to qualify for next season’s Champions League their third round match has now taken on huge significance.
Chelsea are 5/1 favourites to win the competition formerly known as the League Cup. Since it was first sponsored in 1982 seven companies have given their name to the trophy but despite whichever firm has the naming rights the importance of winning the prize has diminished since the emergence of the Champions League.
In today’s financial environment its almost the Champions League or bust for the six biggest sides in England, all based in major cities and with the catchment area and monetary clout to dominate English football. The league within a league is all about playing in the most prestigious club competition in the world which means the second tier of sides have an opportunity to win a trophy and qualify to play in Europe with the Capital One Cup.
Manchester United and Liverpool will now be more focused on winning their tie in the next round after results that have put a serious dent in their title aspirations. One of the major subplots is the possible appearance of Luis Suarez after his 10 match ban for biting and any match between these two North West superpowers will always resonate with the supporters, regardless of the importance of the trophy at stake.
Manchester City and Everton fans probably believe beating their rivals from across town is the biggest objective of the season but in the context of the history of English football a match between United and Liverpool has extra bite. Sir Alex Ferguson achieved his long term aim of ‘knocking Liverpool off their perch’ and it will be galling for their fans that United have won the top division in England 13 times since their last title winning season in 1989-90.
The Capital One match against Liverpool now becomes almost a must-win for David Moyes and his side. Supporters will be horrified if the team lost to both their main rivals in the space of three days. United were out fought and outclassed by City on Sunday and the 4-1 score line was the most United deserved. Only when City dropped a level midway through the second half did United look like scoring and Wayne Rooney’s late goal was no more than a consolation.
Moyes may point to extenuating circumstances in that Robin Van Persie was not fit to play but his side created so few chances that even Van Persie would not have made a great deal of difference. The concern for Moyes is that United were second best in all areas. That would be unacceptable against Liverpool and the strength of his selection for this match will indicate how serious the situation is at Old Trafford.
Liverpool won their first three league matches 1-0 this season with Daniel Sturridge scoring the winning goal in each game. He also scored against Swansea but after leading at half-time Liverpool let their opponents gain the initiative and towards the final whistle only the Swans looked like winning. A point away at Swansea is a decent return but that result is compromised by a subsequent poor performance at home.
If Liverpool are to join the top 4 elite home matches against Southampton should be banker wins. However, despite Steven Gerrard giving his usual all and having two free kicks brilliantly saved it was a case of the old limitations being exposed. Sturridge was as ineffectual at he has been effective early in the season and no other player made a significant contribution to compensate for an average day for the side’s leading scorer.
Jose Mourinho has basically said he would not take too much pleasure from winning the Europa League as it would mean Chelsea had failed in the Champions League so how highly he regards the Capital One Cup is open to debate. He should select a side to beat Swindon Town away from home but the strength of his starting 11 will reflect how much he would like to see Chelsea win the old League Cup.
Despite beating Fulham at home all does not seem well in West London and the Special One has been humbled by Everton in the league and Basel in the Champions League over the last 10 days. Juan Mata and David Luiz were not even in the squad for the Fulham match and it would not bode well for these players if they were chosen for the match against Swindon.
Odds against quotes for Arsenal to win at West Broom would be attractive if Arsene Wenger played a strong side. However, the signing of Mesut Ozil and the form of Aaron Ramsey make Arsenal strong contenders to win the Premier League for the first time since 2004 so Wenger may rest key personnel. West Brom fans will relish this match but events of greater significance will be taking place in Manchester on the same evening.