The EFL Cup, which also goes by the name of the League Cup and various sponsored names too (the Carabao Cup at the time of writing) was founded in 1960. It is the secondary domestic cup competition in English football and whilst it lacks the prestige of the FA Cup, the winners still get a place in Europe and a big day out at Wembley for the final.
Aston Villa won the first ever League Cup back in 1961, beating Rotherham in what was then a two-legged final. In more recent times it has been dominated by the biggest sides from the Premier League, in particular Man City, who have won the competition six times since 2014! The EFL Cup is sometimes derided as unimportant but as the first silverware of the season (the final is typically in February), it can give teams a real boost for the rest of the campaign.
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About the EFL Cup
The EFL Cup is much younger and much smaller than its big brother, the more esteemed FA Cup. Whilst the latter was first played way back in 1871 (and for the record it was won by Wanderers FC that year), the EFL Cup’s inaugural season came in the 1960/61 season, Aston Villa being the team to get their hands on the trophy first. Similarly, whilst more than 700 sides may enter the FA Cup, the EFL Cup, often known as the League Cup, sees just the top 92 teams in English football taking part.
The competition is only open to the 72 members of the Football League, 24 from the Championship, League One and League Two, respectively, plus the 20 teams in the Premier League (EPL). It is the first piece of real silverware to be awarded each year, assuming we discount the Community Shield, with the final normally held in February. But how do we get to that showpiece occasion?
EFL Cup Structure
Whether you prefer to call it the EFL Cup, the League Cup or its current sponsored name, the Carabao Cup – or even the Mickey Mouse Cup as it has sometimes dismissively been labelled – this secondary domestic cup typically runs from very late July or early August until February. It is a straight knockout format with its only real quirk being the staggered entry of some of the top teams.
The precise nature of when certain teams enter has varied over the years but the core principle is that the teams from the Premier League get a bye through the first round and sometimes the second round too. What we will now detail is precisely how the system worked for the 2022/23 EFL Cup.
- 1st Round – 70 teams, 35 games, all clubs from Leagues 1 and 2, plus 22 Championship sides; draw uses geographical North/South split to minimise travel for fans and teams.
- 2nd Round – 50 teams, 25 games; 35 winners from the last round are joined by the two Championship sides who finished 18th and 19th in the previous year’s Premier League, plus 13 PL sides. Again, a North/South split is in place for the draw.
- 3rd Round – 32 teams, 16 games; 25 victorious second round sides are joined by the seven PL teams who had qualified for European football competitions running in the current season.
- 4th Round & Onwards – From here on in, the EFL Cup follows a standard knockout format with 16 becoming eight, becoming four for the semis and then two for the final.
In addition to the above it is worth noting that the draw for each round is usually made after the preceding round’s games have concluded. Each round is drawn separately and games are played over one leg, apart from the semis which are over two legs, home and away. The final is normally played at Wembley and is unique in that this is the only round where extra time is used (if required).
With authorities wanting to reduce the strain on players without too much in the way of sacrificing fixtures, all games aside from the final head straight to penalties if the scores are level after 90 minutes. No extra time, no replays. In addition, away goals are not used as a tie-breaker for the semis and if the aggregate scores are level, again the teams go straight to a 12-yard shootout.
The dates vary slightly from year to year but, generally speaking, the following applies:
- First Round – Early August
- Second Round – Late August
- Third Round – Mid to late September
- Fourth Round – Late October
- Quarter Finals – Shortly before Christmas
- Semi Finals – Two legs in early and mid-January (around a week apart)
- Final – Late February
What Do the Winners of the EFL Cup Get?
The EFL Cup is nowhere near as financially rewarding as the Champions League, the Premier League or the FA Cup. In fact, fans may be rather startled to learn that in 2022 the total prize pool was just £200,000. OK, that can buy you four Seamus Coleman’s but at the same time it will only just cover about half of Mo Salah’s weekly wage.
That meagre prize money is only split between the four semi finalists too, with no other sides earning a penny. That means that Liverpool won £100,000 in 2022, with beaten finalists Chelsea getting £50,000 and the two losing semi finalists getting just £25,000 each. Premier League players don’t get out of bed for that sort of money, let alone clubs! For reference, the winners of the FA Cup get more than £3m!
However, winning the EFL Cup can also give clubs a very timely boost that sets them up for the rest of the season. In addition, they get the cup itself, of course. There have been three different cups used over the years but currently the champions are awarded the original, thought to be worth around £50,000.
The biggest prize, however, is a place in Europe the following season. As of 2022/23 the EFL Cup is the only secondary domestic cup competition to be granted this prize. The winners earn a place in the Europa Conference play-off round, although in recent years the victors have usually already qualified for one of the two higher-level UEFA competitions. In such a situation the place reverts not to the beaten finalist or any other side from the League Cup, but to the highest-placed EPL side who hasn’t already booked their spot in Europe.
EFL Cup History
The first European Cup took place in 1955/56 and whilst the link between that and a Carabao Cup tie between Shrewsbury and Carlisle might not be obvious, there is one. One of the key reasons the Football League created the League Cup was to offer something that might compete with, and offer an alternative to, European football. And so it was that in 1960/61 the EFL Cup was born.
The fact that most clubs had floodlights by then was also a factor, as this facilitated midweek games in the evening, whilst it was also an attempt for the Football League to show the FA that they meant business too and that they were the most important body in English football. Aston Villa and Rotherham would contest the first final, over two legs in August and September of 1961, Villa winning 3-2 on aggregate.
Changes Made Over the Years
Over the years there have been numerous changes to the format of the tournament. Two-legged finals have come and gone and now only the semi finals are played over two legs – in years gone by even some of the earlier rounds were. There have been changes in how extra time and penalties have been used, alterations to the scheduling and dates of the competition, differences in the stage at which various teams have entered and much more besides.
Other changes include which European competition, if any, the winner has been granted entry into, with the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the UEFA Cup, the Europa League and now the Europa Conference League being used as a reward. In addition the trophy itself has changed, with three different options having been used over the years.
EFL Cup Facts & Stats
Note that the following are correct as of September 2022.
- Liverpool have won the EFL Cup most often – nine times
- Arsenal have lost the most finals, six, winning just two
- Man City’s record in finals is won eight, lost one
- QPR, Middlesbrough, West Brom, Luton, Swindon, Oxford United, Blackburn Rovers and Norwich have all won the EFL Cup … but Everton, West Ham and Newcastle haven’t
- Liverpool (1981-1984) and Man City (2018-2021) have both won the competition four seasons in a row
- The final’s Man of the Match wins the Alan Hardaker Trophy and only three men have won it more than once, two defenders (John Terry and Vincent Kompany) and a goalkeeper (Ben Foster)
- The EFL Cup has been sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board, Worthington’s, Cocoa-Cola and a range of other companies over the years, with drinks brands leading the way, be they milk, beer, soft or energy!
- Ian Rush is the all-time leading scorer in the competition with 49 goals to his name
- Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho have both won the EFL Cup six times, a record
- Barry Venison was the youngest captain in a final, aged just 20 when he skippered Sunderland against Norwich in 1985 (they lost)
- The 1977 final was played at Wembley … and Hillsborough … and Old Trafford, as Aston Villa needed two replays to get the better of Everton
- The highest official final attendance of 100,000 was recorded several times but the lowest was just 7,773, in the pandemic-hit 2021 showpiece (Man City beat Spurs 1-0)