Rodgered | The League Cup has, in recent years, seemed to provide far more upsets than the FA Cup, and last night was no exception. (Image | Wales Online)

The past two decades have almost put paid to the relevance and validity of the League Cup in the eyes of football supporters up and down the country. It is frequently deemed a “distraction” by managers who field drastically weakened sides in the hope of making an early exit.

With this level of disdain in mind, one would expect the football to be not at all worth watching. Yeah, right.

Tuesday’s encounter between Reading and Arsenal and yesterday’s Chelsea v Manchester United clash were both stellar examples of the often-lauded “pace and high tempo” of English football. Admittedly, the excitement in both largely stemmed from appalling defending.

It is well known that the League Cup is almost always the lowest priority for Premier League bosses, and sometimes even managers chasing promotion or battling relegation in the Football League. It is a chance to make sweeping changes, perhaps replace an entire team, in anticipation of “more important” games to come.

Tek-ing advantage | Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke certainly understands one benefit of the League Cup, which is that success in this competition is often a catalyst for an improvement in the league. (Image | Sky Sports)

Thus the competition’s role currently, and in the future, can only be as a breeding ground for younger players and an opportunity for fringe performers to show themselves capable of taking to the “main stage”. It is a second-rate competition, purely because it has very little of what matters above all else in football now – money.

Yet this is never any guarantee of the standard of competition. On Tuesday, Brian McDermott‘s Reading, second-bottom of the Premier League and without a win all season, stormed into a 4-0 lead over Arsenal. The Gunners hit back, however, making it 4-4 at the death and forcing extra time.

Moving into the final half an hour, and the football was electric, enthralling and unpredictable. When Arsene Wenger‘s side moved 5-4 ahead, one might have thought that was it. Yet Pavel Pogrebnyak levelled proceedings after 115 minutes, before Theo Walcott completed his hat-trick and Marouane Chamakh put the icing on the cake with an exquisite chip.

Hat-trick | Theo Walcott drove Arsenal’s recovery on Tuesday night, and what a recovery it was from 4-0 down after 35 minutes. (Image | The Guardian)

Scorelines of 7-5 are rare, almost unheard of, in fact. While books given to football-mad youngsters in the 1950s may have spoken romantically about jumpers for goalposts and epic games where superior teams would routinely net five, six or even seven goals against their opponents, football is never normally this flamboyant, or fun.

Wenger’s 11 changes from the side that narrowly beat Queens Park Rangers 1-0 at the weekend are indicative of his warped priorities. To the Frenchman, the League Cup is second-rate, unnecessary, a distraction, irrelevant and just plain annoying.

However, his team pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in decades on Tuesday, and now have a realistic chance of ending the club’s eight-year wait for a trophy. I would not be complaining about that if I were Wenger.

Then came the second round of this season’s “problem derby”, which after the weekend’s explosive game at Stamford Bridge, once again featured a high-scoring affair between Chelsea and Manchester United – at Stamford Bridge. With both teams notably weakened, and a number of atrocious defensive errors, goals rained in and supporters were treated to the sort of match they all want to see.

Let’s face it, goals make games. Defensive solidity and neat passing are concepts that English fans tend to appreciate, because they are aware that they ought to, but they are not what kids in parks spend hours trying to replicate, or what fuels conversations in public houses.

Capital-ise | Daniel Sturridge rounds Anders Lindegaard to put Chelsea 4-3 ahead at Stamford Bridge. (Image | Reuters)

Yesterday’s game had all of the “pub chat” ammo – mistakes, controversial decisions, penalties, stunning goals and a period of extra time in which the match was not being eked out – moreover, it was being pulled this way and that by two teams desperate to win.

This is perhaps a rather romantic claim but the League Cup is an institution and it is one that does not require the commitment that the Premier League does.

The top flight is high-maintenance, glamorous and needy. It must be watched and loved by us all. Rather like a Hollywood star, only the wildest parties, finest bars and most sophisticated restaurants will do.

The League Cup, on the other hand, is your girl next door, known-all-your-life family friend who you may ignore from time to time because she is basically part of the furniture, but underneath that you will have a far better time with her than any high-class film star or media personality. And she would probably be happy with a takeaway and a couple of lagers, too.

Best of all, I have not even mentioned the other results, for yes, there were other matches this week. Such as Norwich City, themselves on a dismal run and struggling to adjust to life without Paul Lambert, snatching a wholly undeserved 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the last six minutes of the game.

Upset | Middlesbrough’s players celebrate knocking out Premier League opposition in the form of Sunderland (Image | Middlesbrough FC)

What about Middlesbrough, winners in 2004, who overcame a dismal Sunderland side to reach the quarter finals? Or Leeds United taking advantage of Southampton’s complacency at Elland Road to run out 3-0 winners? Perhaps maybe Swansea City inflicting yet more embarrassment on Brendan Rodgers at Anfield in a 3-1 win? All of these are upsets, which is apparently what makes the League Cup relevant and exciting.

With that in mind, here’s to the League Cup. It may be second-rate, but unlike the Premier League, there might just still be a bit of romance and excitement left in this old relic. For that reason, I will be following it right to the end, despite it having the most ridiculous sponsorship name in recent memory. Thanks Capital One.

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