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).