What are you doing on Sunday afternoon? That’s right, you’re watching the League Cup final. Let’s face it, that’s what everyone still calls it, isn’t it? It’s technically the ‘EFL Cup’ final now, isn’t it? But whether it’s the EFL Cup, the Worthington’s Cup, the Rumbelows Cup or even the Milk Cup (remember that one?), most managers know it as ‘That Other Cup’. But still, it’s the first chance at silverware each season and, for the teams that make the final, a pretty big deal.
This season’s ‘EFL Cup’ competition now has its two finalists. Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United and Claude Puel’s Southampton. Both sides only needed to win four games to get to the final, each receiving byes into the third round due to their Europa League involvement. United beat Northampton Town, fierce rivals City, West Ham and Hull City; the Saints saw off a Premier League quartet of Palace, Sunderland, Arsenal and Liverpool. Impressively, they’re yet to concede a goal in the competition.
Will it be a cracker? Here’s hoping, eh? We’ve seen plenty of top-notch League Cup finals down the year, after all. Five stick out in our memory. And here they are…
1961: Aston Villa 3-2 Rotherham (on aggregate)
Alright, so we don’t actually remember this particular one. But from what we’ve heard? It was a good ‘un. It was also the first ever League Cup final. Second division Rotherham United surprised everyone by making the final. Then shocked everyone by winning the game against First Division Aston Villa 2-0. Unfortunately for them, though – back then, the finals were over two legs. The cupset was avoided when Villa even things up in the repeat fixture, then bagged a last minute extra time winner.
2005: Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool (AET)
A thriller from the modern era here as we fast forward to 2005 and the maiden trophy of Mr. Mourinho. It was also the first cup to go into the Chelsea cabinet since Roman Abramovich decided to bankroll the West Londoners. It looked like being a Liverpool win after John Arne Riise struck home in the first sixty seconds. And it stayed 1-0 until the 79th minute when Chelsea target Steven Gerrard got a little confused over who his employer actually was and banged in an own goal. Extra time followed and a buoyed Blues took a 3-1 lead with goals from Mateja Kezman and the ever-prolific Didier Drogba. Antonio Nunez made things respectable late on, but Chelsea held firm and penalties were avoided.
1991: Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Manchester United
Six teams from outside the top flight have made the League Cup final in the past twenty five years: Bolton Wanderers, Middlesbrough, Tranmere Rovers and Cities Birmingham, Cardiff and Bradford. None managed to topple their superior opponents, though. The only team to manage it? Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls took on – and beat – this year’s final favourites, Manchester United. Admittedly, 1991-era United wasn’t them at their peak, but they were expected to win on the day with some ease. John Sheridan wasn’t having any of it, though. The victory was particularly sweet for Wednesday boss Big Ron Atkinson. He’d been shown the Old Trafford door six years previously.
2011: Arsenal 1-2 Birmingham City
Six years ago, Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City were having a miserable season. Poised for the drop from the Premier League, they were given a little respite when they reached the League Cup final. No one gave them a chance. If they were going to play like they had been in the league, then they were in for a proper humping. But it wasn’t to be. The never-ending Nikola Zigic put the Midlanders ahead, before Robin van Persie levelled things up before the break. It stayed 1-1 for next forty four minutes, before a defensive mix-up allowed the flipping marvellous and eternally youthful Obafemi Martins to steal in with a winner.
1988: Luton Town 3-2 Arsenal
A bit of a rollercoaster, this one. An early strike from Brian Stein put the Bedfordshire mob in front and it stayed that way until the seventy minute mark. Then? Well, things all went a bit mental. Arsenal were League Cup holders and suddenly decided they fancied retaining the thing and started making an effort. Martin Hayes and Alan Smith made it 2-1 Arsenal. The Gunners were then awarded a penalty. But the diminutive Nigel Winterburn missed the thing. Luton threw everything forward and quickly made it 2-2. Future Barnsley and Sheffield United manager Danny Wilson with the goal. Then… In the last minute? Stein popped up again to win the loot for Luton. A thriller.
Will Sunday’s final match any of these five? We’ll have to wait and see…