When it comes to ranking the domestic cup competitions in England, most supporters list the FA Cup first and then the League Cup second.
Sometimes, traditions are hard to break.
The tendency to rank the FA Cup first comes from a glorified image of what the FA Cup used to be rather than what it is now. Nostalgia is a powerful force, and while the FA Cup still maintains some of its magic, the Capital One Cup is by far a much better competition. Here’s why:
1. Clubs are less likely to field weaker squads in the Capital One Cup than the FA Cup.
The Capital One Cup benefits from having a schedule that better fits into the Premier League season by playing matches earlier in the season when players are fresher and there’s less pressure to field weakened sides if a club is in threat of relegation (which is more likely to happen when Premier League clubs enter the FA Cup in the third round of the competition, which is held in early January).
Another benefit of the Capital One Cup’s schedule is that clubs that are participating in European competitions are given a bye into the third round (in mid-to-late September), while the Premier League clubs not playing in European competitions start in the second round (in late August).
Yes, Premier League managers will play footballers in Capital One Cup games that don’t normally see the light of day in the Premier League, but you’re not going to see the type of wholesale changes you’ll see in the FA Cup where managers are prioritizing Premier League survival over FA Cup advancement.
2. More upsets.
In the past 5 years, how many memorable upsets can you think of that happened in the FA Cup compared to the Capital One Cup? Not many, right? Me neither.
On the other hand, the last 5 years of the Capital One Cup have seen Bradford beating Arsenal, Middlesbrough knocking Manchester United out of the cup, and Swansea defeating Chelsea (and then winning the 2013 final). Plus, who can forget MK Dons beating Manchester United 4-0? The list of upsets goes on and on.
3. The FA Cup is overhyped.
Yes, the third round of the FA Cup is one of my favorite weekends of the English football calendar, but it often ends up being a disappointing weekend of TV watching. I’m always intrigued by seeing matches played in smaller grounds across England, but when I think about it, the hype of the FA Cup hardly, if ever, matches the quality of football on display.
With the Capital One Cup, there’s less hype and therefore lowered expectations. As a result, the Capital One Cup manages to exceed expectations year after year.
4. The format of the Capital One Cup is streamlined.
One of the best features of the Capital One Cup is that it’s single elimination with no replays. You can guarantee that there’ll be a winner in each game without the need of having a replay. The only exception is the semi-final stage of the League Cup, which features a home and away leg (more about that later).
Knowing that there are no replays, it means that every round of the Capital One Cup (up until the semi-final) is a win-or-get-knocked-out contest. You’re less likely to have teams playing for a draw in the hopes of getting a replay where a club can generate more revenue from gate receipts.
With the FA Cup, the tournament can feel like a chore at times especially when your team has to squeeze a replay into an already busy schedule.
5. Semi-finals not at Wembley.
Having the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup played at the respective club’s stadiums makes for a more exciting atmosphere instead of the FA Cup semi-finals that are played at Wembley. Don’t get me wrong, Wembley Stadium is a magnificent building, but it should be reserved for the final only.
Having the semi-finals staged as home and away legs in the Capital One Cup allows fans to connect with the competition in a more personal way. There’s more suspense, too, both on and off the pitch.
6. The scheduling is critical.
Another benefit of the Capital One Cup is that its schedule doesn’t disrupt the season. Except for the final, matches are played midweek. And most of them are played in the first half of the season.
With FA Cup games scheduled on weekends instead of midweek, a deep FA Cup run can create fixture congestion. Weekend Premier League matches have to be rescheduled for midweek. And god forbid your team gets forced into a replay.
With the FA Cup, it’s almost as if the scheduling of games is a punishment, not a benefit.
7. Timing is everything.
Last but not least, the Capital One Cup can be a huge plus for managers who want to get an early lifeline by winning the first piece of silverware of the season. With the final played in February, it gives managers a chance to have something to play for even if the club’s league form is disappointing.
With the FA Cup, there are ways to adapt the competition to make it more relevant to the English football calendar, but that would require significant changes from The FA, and I don’t believe the organization is that forward thinking.
The longer the Football Association keeps the status quo with the FA Cup, the more the Capital One Cup will prosper. Long may it continue to thrive.