It may be mocked as a meaningless trophy but having been starved of silverware since 1995 us Everton fans would love to get our hands on the Carling Cup.
It is a Mickey-Mouse cup, that’s what I tell myself and others. A nothing trophy that no-one really cares about. But I only really say that because Everton have never won the League Cup (or the Carling Cup as all the cool kids are calling it nowadays). If we reach the final and emerge victorious then it will be magically transformed into the greatest trophy in modern football.
When you take into account Everton’s haul of trophies in the past, our lack of success in the League Cup is obviously something of a sore point.
We’ve come close a few times. Back in 1977 we reached the final but after two replays were pipped by Villa, a last minute goal by Brian Little sealing our fate.
Then in 1984, when the cup was weirdly sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board, we faced the dreaded s***e, in what was the first all Merseyside cup final. A pretty unremarkable game ended in a draw, although Everton would have won but for a bit of creative defending by Alan Hansen, who chose to keep Graeme Sharp’s goal-bound effort out with his hand (a method of defending that he never seems to advocate on Match of the Day). In the following replay we inevitably lost, a Graeme Souness goal separating the sides.
Everton seem cursed never to succeed in this competition and in recent years the League Cup has rarely been a happy hunting ground for us. Exits are usually pretty quick, the sole exception being 2008, when our opponents this evening, Chelsea, managed to thwart our dreams of success by dumping us out in the semi-finals.
Could things be different this time though? It probably doesn’t help that when the teams met in the league recently things didn’t turn out too well for Everton. We failed to turn up to the game and Chelsea turned us over 3-1, the brilliance of Juan Mata proving difficult to cope with. This combined with our traditionally less than stellar performances in the competition means that few Evertonians will approach the game with over-flowing confidence.
But this doesn’t mean that we don’t have a chance. For a start, the tie is at home. It might be knackered and lack the imposing size of somewhere like Old Trafford, but a full Goodison on a weekday night can be a daunting prospect for visiting teams.
And who that visiting team will consist of will also have a big impact on the game. Chelsea will be without several suspended players as they make their way north. Jose Bosingwa is out. Didier Drogba is out. And budding marksman and dead-eyed money-whore Ashley Cole is also out. Of course, unlike Everton, Chelsea have strength in depth. But a forthcoming game against Arsenal at the weekend, a fixture that ultimately might have more significance for them than this tie, means that other first choice players might not feature.
Both Moyes and the fans yearn for some silverware and so a decision to select a team filled with good players and one that is more attacking in style will indicate that the Scot has his eyes on the prize.
Everton’s options by contrast are always limited. But over the course of the past few weeks slightly more choice has become available as some of our recent acquisitions, such as Vellios and the wonderfully named Royston Drenthe (who sounds like a station on Yorkshire branch line) have started to show more promise. As too have some of our younger players who have come through the ranks, like Ross Barkley.
The option of playing either Vellios or Stracqualursi alongside Saha upfront, also means that Moyes has the option, rare by recent Everton history, of playing with two forwards from the beginning. Leon Osman and Tim Cahill are good players who always work hard for the team, but the sight of either of them leading the front line is not one that inspires confidence amongst many supporters.
Ultimately, whatever way the teams line-up tonight will say a lot about how each respective manager views this competition.
David Moyes is in many ways one of Everton’s greatest managers. In an age of opulence he has managed to ensure that a club with very little has gone a long way. Everton remain a top-eight team, despite having finances that suggest that we have no place in the top-flight, let alone the top-eight. But despite this he has yet to bring home a trophy, although he did come very close in the FA Cup a few years ago. Both he and the fans yearn for some silverware and so a decision to select a team filled with good players and one that is more attacking in style will indicate that Moyes has his eyes on the prize.
Despite winning this trophy twice in recent years, like other big clubs, Chelsea rarely put out their first choice team this early on in the competition. But teenage managerial sensation, Andre Villas-Boas (he’s only fourteen you know) is new to the club and will be keen to bring home some silverware to appease his mighty Russian overlord. The League Cup is often seen as something of a soft-touch and so he could be tempted to put in a little more effort than is usually the case. I’d be surprised if he does, but there is a lot of pressure and expectation on his shoulders and as a boss, Roman Abramovich’s managerial style lies somewhere between Alan Sugar and Satan.
But whatever happens tonight I already have my stock responses sorted out
1) Everton lose: ‘It’s a c**p cup, no-one cares about it and anyway if we’d gone through it would only have been a distraction from the league, which is what really counts’
2) Everton win: ‘Wembley here we come. Our name is on the cup. Finally a chance to win this wonderful trophy that is so steeped in footballing tradition.’
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