Manchester City have another piece of silverware to show for the billions invested by the club’s Abu Dhabi owners after lifting a third straight League Cup on Sunday with a 2-1 win over Aston Villa.
The legacy of Pep Guardiola’s reign in charge of the English champions is assured with this his eighth trophy of the last 11 competitions City have entered.
However, the long-term future of the League Cup is less secure with pressure being applied for English football to get in line with the rest of Europe’s major leagues and lose one of its two domestic cup competitions.
Despite his success in the competition, Guardiola is even among those calling for its head.
‘Eliminate competitions, take out this competition,’ he said last month when asked how to ease fixture congestion in between the two legs of his side’s semi-final with Manchester United.
‘So less games, less competitions, less teams, more quality, less quantity. People can live without football for a while. It’s too much.’
While City gorge on success, defeat for Villa meant their wait to win a trophy since 1996 goes on.
The League Cup is meant to offer a shot at glory for those not bestowed with the wealth to compete at the top end of the Premier League for titles.
But City have won the competition for five of the past seven seasons with Chelsea and Manchester United the only other victors in that time.
City’s latest success was played out among plenty of empty seats in their end of the ground for what was unquestionably not even the most important game of their week.
That was Wednesday’s 2-1 win at Real Madrid in the Champions League, a result that keeps alive the club’s dream of finally winning the competition they really desire before a two-season ban from UEFA comes into force.
City’s dominance of the competition in recent times comes from a strength in depth that means they are simply too good for most opponents even when it is not their top priority.
Guardiola could afford the luxury of making eight changes for what was once one of English football’s showpiece occasions.
The gulf in class still showed as Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho were among those restored to the City starting line-up, along with 19-year-old Phil Foden, who picked up the man-of-the-match award.
After Aguero and Rodrigo fired City into a 2-0 lead after half an hour a repeat of a 6-1 win for the visitors when the sides last met at Villa Park last month looked a distinct possibility.
Mbwana Samatta’s goal just before half-time helped restore Villa’s pride and some credibility for the competition.
However, a losing battle may be on the horizon for the English Football League, who run the League Cup.
Major changes to the football calendar are expected from 2024 onwards, which could include up to four more rounds of Champions League action.
France has already ditched its League Cup from next season and many of England’s biggest clubs give the impression they would shed few tears if the same happens across the Channel.
Liverpool were happy to pave Villa’s way to the final by fielding a youth team in the quarter-finals in December to avoid extra fixture congestion on their return from the Club World Cup in Qatar.
The thousands of fans who poured onto the Villa Park pitch after their dramatic semi-final victory over Leicester showed the League Cup does still have an ability to captivate and excite.
However, those moments are becoming far and few between for a 60-year-old tournament struggling to find its place in the modern game where Champions and Premier League riches are king.
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