The Football League Cup – renamed in the 2016-17 season as the EFL Cup and currently named the Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons – is not perhaps the most glamorous tournament in the game, but many teams still really, really want to win it. There are plenty of great value betting opportunities here as many of the big boys field understrength sides so upsets are a regular occurrence.
Read on for our EFL Cup information, stats, tips, offers and betting advice, and hopefully we can help you to decide which team you fancy to lift the trophy this year.
Football League Cup ExplainedThe EFL Cup is commonly considered to be secondary to the FA Cup in that it lacks the same romantic history and sense of tradition, as well as the fact that it only allows the 92 Football League clubs to enter. Despite bigger clubs often using the competition to utilise some of their lesser-spotted players, there is still a lot of pride taken in winning it.
The fact that big clubs often weaken themselves in effect, means that a surprise team can often travel through the competition much further than expected. For example in the 2012-13 campaign, Bradford City beat Arsenal and Aston Villa on their way to the final.
The winner of the competition earns a place in the Europa Conference League for the following season which at least keeps it competitive. The incentive of playing at Wembley was also crucial in the competition’s development. The first League Cup final to be held at the footballing headquarters was in 1967. It may be the least prestigious of all domestic competitions in which the top flight clubs compete, but to win the EFL Cup is still an important accolade.
A Brief History of the EFL Cup
The idea for the League Cup was originally born out of the supposed need for a consolation competition for those who were knocked out of the FA Cup. The competition was eventually introduced in the 1960-61 campaign but not as a fallback for sides no longer in the FA Cup, but as a way of filling up the games that clubs missed because of the restructuring of the league that was going on at that time. It has since become an institution of the English game.
The competition has taken on a number of different sponsors over the years including “Littlewoods”, “Coca-Cola” and “Worthington’s”. The fact that it is a commercial competition doesn’t help its reputation of not being as traditional or romantic as the FA Cup.
Despite it not having the same reputation for giant-killing, the League Cup has come up with some great stories of its own over the years. Chester City knocked out Champions of England Leeds United in the 1974-75 campaign, while in 1995 Manchester United were knocked out by lowly York City. Liverpool were knocked out at home to Grimsby in 2001-02 while the aforementioned exploits of Bradford in 2012-13 will go down in folklore as arguably the most extraordinary run in the history of the tournament.
Football League Cup Stats & Facts
Here we detail some Football League Cup stats and facts, including most wins, biggest win, most individual player wins, youngest players to have participated in the league and the highest goalscorer.
Liverpool are the side who have won the competition the most times and by some distance, lifting the trophy on eight separate occasions. Man City have won six times – four of them since 2014 – Aston Villa, Chelsea, and Man Utd all have five wins under their belt, while the likes of Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur have won it four times each.
Smaller top flight clubs such as Stoke City, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion, who have all won the League Cup once, will feel that this competition is perhaps their best chance of silverware.
The biggest win in one League Cup game is 10-0 and it has occurred twice. Liverpool beat Fulham with that score-line in 1986 while West Ham United beat Bury by the same margin in 1983. The biggest aggregate win, however, comes from a more recent encounter between Manchester City and West Ham in the 2013-14 semi-final; Manuel Pellegrini’s side winning the two-legged affair 9-0. The biggest win in a final comes from 2013 when Swansea beat Bradford 5-0, and the highest scoring game is from 2012 when Arsenal came back from 4-0 down at half time to beat Reading 7-5.
Most Tournament Wins (Individual)Ian Rush holds the outright record for this one, having won the competition five times for Liverpool in his esteemed career. However, the record for the most individual appearances in a final makes for more interesting reading.
Rush is tied top of the list, having appeared in six finals, alongside the slightly less-esteemed Emile Heskey who appeared in three finals for Leicester City in the late ‘90s and 2000, as well as three for Liverpool.
|Harvey Elliott||15yrs 3months||Fulham FC||2018|
|Ashley Chambers||15yrs 6months||Leicester City||2005|
|Benjamin Chrisene||15yrs 7months||Exeter City||2019|
|Jordon Ibe||15yrs 8months||Wycombe Wanderers||2011|
|Ethan Ampadu||15yrs 10months||Exeter City||2016|
The youngest goalscorer in the final is Norman Whiteside who scored at Wembley in 1983 at just 17 when Manchester United faced Liverpool, while the youngest captain in the final record belongs to Barry Venison who skippered Sunderland against Norwich City in 1985.
The players who have scored the most career goals in the competition are Geoff Hurst and Ian Rush who both scored an incredible 49 apiece. Clive Allen scored 12 League Cup goals in the 1986-87 season, a record for an individual in one year, while the most goals scored in an individual match is six by Frankie Bunn for Oldham in 1989.
How Are the Teams Chosen for the League Cup?
Unlike the FA Cup, which includes more than 700 teams and has several qualification rounds before the ‘competition proper’, the League Cup is relatively straightforward. As the name of the tournament might well suggest, the League Cup is open to clubs in the English Football League (EFL), but also those in the Premier League. As such, any clubs that end a season in the Premier League, the Championship, League One or League Two will qualify for the following season’s EFL Cup.
Can Non-League Teams Qualify for the League Cup?
In a word, no. The EFL Cup is open to the 72 clubs in the English Football League and the 20 clubs in the Premier League. Any club playing in a division below that of League Two (so the National League or below) will therefore not compete in the League Cup. Depending on the level at which they play, non-league clubs may qualify for either the FA Vase or the FA Trophy (not to be confused with the EFL Trophy, which is not open to non-league clubs).
League Cup Format
The format of the EFL has changed slightly since its inaugural tournament in the 1960/61 season. The most notable change in recent years has been the abandonment of two-legged rounds (except for the semis) and the eradication of replays in the case of draws (which are now settled by a penalty shootout). Note that extra time is only played (if required) in the final, with all other rounds progressing straight to penalties if the sides are level after normal time.
As with many similar cups, matches are played at the ground of the first team drawn out of the ‘hat’ in the rounds with just a single leg, and the first match of each semi final is played at the ground of the first team drawn. The exact dates of the different rounds vary, of course, from season to season (sometimes to take into account other tournaments such as the Qatar World Cup of 2022). We’ll therefore give a rough guide as to when each round typically takes place.
Partly as a seeding mechanism and due to the fact that there 92 clubs to facilitate, but chiefly to lighten the workload for the biggest teams (who play in Europe), the competition is not a straightforward knockout. Different sides enter the fray at different stages, the EFL Cup only becoming a standard elimination competition (with no new teams entering) once we reach the third round. As with many aspects of the League Cup, there have been various tweaks to this over the years but this is how things are as of the 2022/23 EFL Cup.
- When It’s Played – August
- Number of Teams – 70
The first round of the EFL Cup includes 70 clubs: 24 League Two sides, 24 League One clubs and 22 teams from the Championship. The round is split geographically into northern and southern regions with sides only drawn against opponents in their region (with the idea of minimising travel time and expense for sides who often have limited resources). The winners of the 35 games progress to the second round.
Note that on occasion, if the number of sides receiving byes to the third round (see below) means there would be an uneven number of clubs in the first or second round, a preliminary round may be used. At the time of writing, this has only happened twice. This first occurred in 2002/03 when relegated Ipswich Town had been awarded a place in the UEFA Cup (through the Fair Play route). It happened again in 2011/12 when the EFL Cup holders Birmingham City were relegated to the Championship (but had earned a bye to the third round by winning the tournament the season before).
- When It’s Played – August/September
- Number of Teams – 50
Like the first round, the second also retains the geographical split between northern and southern clubs to limit travel-time for fans and smaller clubs. The 35 winners from the first round are joined by the two Championship clubs that were relegated from the Premier League the season before in 18th and 19th place. These are also joined by the (usually) 13 sides from the Premier League that are not involved in European tournaments (i.e. the Champions League, the Europa League or the Europa Conference League). The Premier League sides involved in Europe get a bye to the third round, meaning that for them glory is just the simple (!) matter of winning five matches.
- When It’s Played – September
- Number of Teams – 32
The third round is when the remaining seven Premier League teams enter the fray to join the 25 winners from the previous round. With 32 clubs now in the draw, from here on in, it’s very straightforward, with no additional teams entering in subsequent rounds. Things simply play out in a standard knockout format that we see in so many other competitions, with 32 teams becoming 16, then eight, four, two and, claiming the first silverware of the season, just one.
- When It’s Played – October/November
- Number of Teams – 16
As mentioned, no additional teams join at this stage (or indeed any later in the tournament) and there are 16 single-leg matches, the eight winners of which progress to the quarter finals.
- When It’s Played – December/January
- Number of Teams – 8
Another simple round: eight games, each played over one leg, again with home advantage based on the draw, the four winners of which progress to the semis.
- When It’s Played – January
- Number of Teams – 4
The semi final round is now the only round of the tournament played over two legs, and has been for a number of years now. In the past the final was briefly played over two games, whilst the first and second rounds have also been two-legged at various times in the competition’s history.
However, for almost all of the 21st century, only the semis have been over two legs, with the games usually around two weeks apart. The first clash is played at the home ground of the first team out of the hat when the draw for the semis was made.
Until the 2017/18 season, the away goal rule applied to the semi finals, but was only applied after extra time had been played (where required). The away goals rule meant that the side that had scored more goals when playing away (if indeed either had) would progress if the sides were otherwise level after two legs. Since the 2018/19 season, however, the away goals rule was scrapped – as was extra time for all rounds but the final. As such, if the sides are level after normal time of the second leg of the semi final, the tie will go straight to penalties to decide which side makes it through to the final.
- When It’s Played – Late February
- Number of Teams – 2
Played at a neutral venue (usually Wembley Stadium), the final is the only match of the tournament that may feature extra time if the sides are level after normal time. If the finalists are still all-square after extra time, the game (and the cup) will be decided by a penalty shootout, i.e. there would be no replay.
Prior to the 1966/67 season, the League Cup final was played over two legs using the grounds of the finalists. Between 1967 and 1997, if the final ended level after extra time, the match went to a replay (or replays, as in the 1977 final between Aston Villa and Everton that required two replays before Villa won).
The winner of the final receives the EFL Cup, prize money (£100,000 in 2022) and entry into the following season’s UEFA Europa Conference League. Typically the winners have tended to go on to qualify for either the Europa League or the Champions League. In this scenario, entrance to the UEFA Europa Conference League passes to the highest-ranked side in the Premier League not to have already qualified for Europe.
What Has the League Cup Been Called Over the Years?
Although the Football League Cup was called simply that for its first two decades, since then it has had a wide variety of names. As you will see in the table below, these names have generally been related to the main sponsor of the tournament. The 2016/17 season was the exception as there was no official (naming) sponsor, so the tournament was called simply the EFL Cup.
|1960/61 to 1980/81||None||N/A||Football League Cup|
|1981/82 to 1985/86||Milk Marketing Board||Beverage marketing board||Milk Cup|
|1986/87 to 1989/90||Littlewoods||Retail & football pools||Littlewoods Challenge Cup|
|1990/91 to 1991/92||Rumbelows||Electrical/electronics retail||Rumbelows Cup|
|1992/93 to 1997/98||Coca-Cola||Beverages||Coca-Cola Cup|
|1998/99 to 2002/03||Worthington’s||Brewing||Worthington Cup|
|2003/04 to 2011/12||Carling (Molson Coors from 2005)||Brewing||Carling Cup|
|2012/13 to 2015/16||Capital One||Financial services||Capital One Cup|
|2017/18 to 2023/24||Carabao Energy Drink||Beverages||Carabao Cup|
Of the eight main tournament sponsors over the years, it is interesting to note that five of them have been companies that make (or promote) beverages of some kind. Supporting football teams is clearly thirsty work. Despite the sums these businesses pay to have their brand associated with the competition, though, for many it remains, simply, “The League Cup”.