Controversy about fielding ‘weakened’ sides in the League Cup looks set to rage on after this weeks patchy results for Premier League teams. Increasingly it is starting to look like a very bad idea, not so much in principle because its good to give squad players a game and get some experience, but more because the simple fact is, most club’s reserve team players are, with a few exceptions, not really very good, certainly little better than the best players in the lower division as we have just witnessed.
Add to that the fact that you’re bringing them in to play in a line-up they have never played in before, playing a team that is often highly motivated and it’s often a recipe for humiliation.
Surely managers know this, so what exactly is the reason for sending out a so-called weaker side? Is it to rest the 1st team players? This seems odd in September as players haven’t played very much. Surely they can’t be tired already? Surely this is the extreme end of over-protection of players. They are fit, strong young men who have played at most five league games in the last seven weeks. They do not need resting, surely.
The argument that the League Cup is a good competition to blood youngsters and bring them on in form and experience is a much better one. However, it relies on the fans being complicit in the notion that the League Cup doesn’t really matter much so if the experiment fails, then no-one is that bothered.
However, while this notion was popular for a time amongst some sides, it is increasingly not the case. Increasingly, fans want to try and win some silverware, especially fans of non-Champions League teams. There are only three trophies to win for them; the league is almost certainly out of the question, so there are just the two cups. Why not try and win them with your best side? Surely it’s better to field a weaker side in a league game because you have 38 games to rescue your season but only one chance to win a cup game.
And anyway, the League Cup is a fine competition to compete for. I loathe this scaling up or down of competitions as more or less ‘important.’ If clubs lose interest in competing for trophies and settle merely for trying to preserve their league status, then the whole point of the game is undermined.
It’s not so much the losing that should hurt today for the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City but rather the fact that they have exited a competition with a whimper purely through poor team selection and false notions of priority.
The weakened team is a fashion that has had its day. It disrespects the competition, the fans and indeed, football itself.