It won’t be long until the mantra of ‘it’s all about staying in the Premier League’ is voiced from around two-thirds of managers in the top flight.
With the new season just a few weeks away, plans are being put in place to ensure clubs give themselves the best possible chance of doing this all over again in 12 months’ time.
Due to the financial rewards on offer in the Premier League, staying exactly where you are is celebrated as an achievement in the modern game and points to a startling lack of ambition when it comes to actually striving to win something.
Understandably, there is little prospect of two-thirds of the clubs in the top flight being able to challenge for the Premier League title due to the gulf in quality. But the growing trend for the white flag to be raised in cup competitions is also becoming wearisome.
The Capital One Cup is the first major trophy on offer in the 2015/16 and, rightly, the biggest clubs will dominate the League Cup betting. Yet that is not a reason for so many other clubs to simply give up and let what we shall call the ‘big six’ – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham – an almost free run to the silverware.
In the last 15 years, the League Cup has been won by one of those six teams 11 times, while only two finals in that time haven’t featured a club from that sextet. In 2004, Middlesbrough beat Bolton in the final and, in 2013, Swansea beat Bradford in the final.
It’s almost getting to the stage where League One clubs show more ambition in the competition than Premier League clubs given that Sheffield United reached the semi-finals last season, following Bradford’s run to the final two years previously.
This ‘tradition’ of managers fielding weaker teams in the League Cup has surely got to stop. On the majority of occasions, a second-string Chelsea team is going to beat a second-string Stoke team, for example. Yet, if Stoke were to pick their strongest side in the League Cup against a Chelsea side which also has European commitments, then there would be a much greater chance of success.
It seems ridiculous that clubs of the size and stature of Everton and Newcastle have featured just three times in the League Cup final, and have never won the competition. The last time one of those clubs featured in the final was back in 1984 when Everton lost to local rivals Liverpool.
They are clubs whose target each season must surely be to try to win one of the cup competitions. They have shown they are capable of beating the top teams on a one-off basis, but lack the resources to compete for the Premier League title.
Their fans must surely prefer the chance to celebrate a trip to Wembley in the League Cup final than the ‘meh’ feeling which accompanies another mid-table finish in the Premier League.
It is to be hoped that the coming season will offer a sea change in opinion from Premier League managers so that they put winning a trophy above finishing 10th. After all, there is a reason for the football cliché of ‘mid-table obscurity’.