League Cup a chance for the Premier League’s trophy-less to stake a claim

first_imgEngland’s second cup competition has changed names more times than a convict on the run but one cannot avoid the feeling that it is on its last legs. The Carabao Cup, as it is called in its current guise, will probably be abolished soon, squeezed out of existence by a European Super League or sheer neglect. The alterations made to this season’s tournament – VAR, no extra time, Dennis Wise inspecting a Vietnamese post office before the first-round draw – have not prevented attendances from being low and entire reserve sides being fielded, even by the likes of Fleetwood Town, for pity’s sake. Share on Pinterest Evidently the alterations have not gone far enough. To have any chance of gaining fresh appeal, the competition needs to embrace a radically different format and become to classic football – with which tampering must be minimised – what Twenty20 is to cricket or at least what Sevens is to rugby. So, stage matches with fewer players or bigger targets or with volleyed goals worth extra or, best of all, allow each manager to choose a 20-minute period in which both sides must have four and only four players in their own halves. Let the other seven commit to attacking the depleted opposing defence. Innovate, dammit.No one is saying teams should be forced to wear shimmering disco jerseys or adopt warrior nicknames – though let’s not rule that out – but the second cup competition definitely needs to become more distinctive in a way that would demand more attention.[Clears throat. Empties nostrils.] Having said all that, the current competition is not yet dead. It is still classed as a major trophy attractive enough for Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea to lift in recent years, albeit without going for it at full pelt, which has been demoralising. This week’s round of 16 may prove interesting for anyone who cares to tune in. One man in particular needs to take it very seriously. Eddie Howe, whose Bournemouth team host Norwich City on Tuesday, should go all out to win the competition.Five clubs in the Premier League – a quarter of the country’s elite division – have never won a major trophy. Between them Bournemouth, Fulham, Brighton, Watford and Crystal Palace have been playing for more than six centuries without needing to know that toothpaste, ketchup and banana peels can all be used to polish silver. Three of them – Fulham, Palace and Bournemouth – are in the round of 16. View gallery Greatest final ever? When Luton’s ‘plastic fantastics’ toppled Arsenal Pinterest Share on Twitter Share via Email Facebook The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email. comment Andros Townsend scores for Crystal Palace their Carabao Cup third-round match at West Brom. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images He did guide Bournemouth to the quarter-final of the second cup competition when they were a Championship side, losing to Liverpool in 2014, and steered them to the same stage again last season, only to field a weakened team against Chelsea because they went into the tie only one point above the relegation places. That has tended to be his approach to both cup competitions since reaching the top flight. In 2016 Bournemouth earned a shot of advancing to the FA Cup quarter-finals – “It would be a really big moment for the football club if we could achieve that,” Howe said before making seven changes to his lineup and losing 2-0 at home to Everton. In the same competition the next season his team rolled over at Millwall and lost 3-0, and last year they were eliminated by Wigan by the same score.Those results were due to Howe rationing his team’s workload. He is very measured. So now he must know that even if he has a stronger squad this season, there is no need for him to rest his top players for the arduous league schedule because it does not really matter that four of Bournemouth’s next six league matches are against Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool. They can win their first major trophy and reach Europe either way. So are Burton Albion, the competition’s other potless survivor. But the League One side have little hope of ending their wait this season, even if Nigel Clough’s men can take particular inspiration from the past feats of their next opponent, Nottingham Forest. Fulham, assigned a trip to Manchester City, could get away with forsaking the tie in the name of concentrating on their fight for Premier League survival. Palace, too, are in a relegation brawl so may not dedicate themselves fully to beating Middlesbrough, who, in turn, may choose to omit key players to prioritise their push for promotion. But Bournemouth have no excuse.They are in no danger of the drop this season and their highest likely finish in the Premier League is in a Europa League place, which would be wonderful but which they could claim anyway by winning the Carabao Cup. This, then, is the ideal time for Howe to address the only smudge on his otherwise extraordinary record at Bournemouth – his uselessness in cup competitions.center_img Reuse this content Sportblog Twitter Carabao Cup The Dozen: the weekend’s best Premier League photos Topics Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn There is a lot to dislike about Bournemouth. They play in a pokey ground in a footballing backwater. Their Russian billionaire backer, Maxim Demin, seldom shows up at matches and feels no need to make himself known to the public. His fortune enabled the club to breach financial fair play rules when they gained promotion from the Championship in 2015.But Howe offsets all that, even if his demeanour can appear boring. He has achieved that trickiest of managerial feats, overseeing constant progression while playing risky football. He is the opposite to José Mourinho in personality, style and – so far – trophy collection. Manchester United should try to hire him when they jilt Mourinho. Which is not to say that Howe should accept such an offer. At least not before he has taken Bournemouth as far as he can. Which he has not yet done. Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Read morelast_img read more