The League Cup doesn’t always get a good press. Long viewed as less prestigious than the FA Cup or European competitions (even, these days, the Europa Conference League!), the competition has at times been regarded as something of an annoyance by managers of the top Premier League clubs. In turn, many fans berate bosses for fielding second- or third-string sides and essentially throwing in the towel against lesser opposition so they can focus on the Premier League and other competitions. But does the League Cup really matter to the biggest clubs in England?
In this article, we’ll attempt to answer that question by looking at the most successful sides in the Premier League era and how they have fared in the League Cup. We’ll also look at occasions when top-flight managers didn’t show the League Cup the respect some think it deserves.
League Cup Winners 1993 to 2023
Here we’ll show the clubs that have won the League Cup since the Premier League started life in the 1992/93 season.
|No. of League Cups
|Last League Cup Won
|No. of Premier League Titles
|No. of FA Cups
As you can see, the four clubs that have won the most League Cups in the Premier League era – Man City, Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea – would certainly be classified as big clubs. But one of the biggest and most successful clubs of recent decades has had notably little success in the League Cup: Arsenal.
So let’s delve a little deeper into the sides that tended to take the League Cup seriously and those that have perhaps not always gone full tilt to compete in the competition.
How Top Premier League Clubs Have Regarded the League Cup
Let’s take a look at four of the biggest clubs in England, some of whom have shown a real commitment to winning the third most prestigious competition in English football… others, not so much.
- League Cup Wins (since 1993) – 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021
It was the 2011 FA Cup victory under Roberto Mancini that kickstarted Man City’s recent success (they won their first Premier League title the following season). But the League Cup has played an important part of City’s development towards domestic (and finally European) greatness.
While some managers (as we’ll see later) had a scornful view of the League Cup, successive City bosses have embraced the competition. Pep Guardiola has won it four times, twice more than he has the FA Cup, and though he never regarded it in the same light as the Champions League, he never dismissed it as a meaningless tournament.
- League Cup Wins (since 1993) – 2006, 2009, 2010, 2017, 2023
Manchester United’s (and specifically their most successful ever boss, Alex Ferguson’s) relationship with the League Cup has been rather love-hate over the years. Ferguson won the tournament with the Red Devils in 1992, the season before his first league title with the club.
But then the Scottish boss seemed to deprioritise it somewhat… at least until the final few years of his reign. Indeed, the Red Devils won six Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a Champions League before they next won the League Cup (in 2006). This certainly suggests that United were a very successful team during that era, but also that they really didn’t focus on the League Cup.
Ferguson was often criticised for playing weak sides in the League Cup (though it was water off a duck’s back for the hardy Glaswegian). But the results in the competition speak for themselves: in the first 10 seasons of the Premier League, Man United were knocked out of the League Cup in the second round once, the third round five times and the fourth round twice. They only made the final once in that time (when they lost to Aston Villa in 1994).
But later, perhaps because it had become harder to win other silverware as other sides became more competitive, Man United – and Ferguson – appeared to put more stock in the League Cup. They won it in 2006, 2009 and 2010 under Ferguson, and then in 2017 and 2023. These days United certainly view the League Cup as a trophy worth chasing, as they haven’t had much success challenging for many others.
- League Cup Wins (since 1993) – 1993
Aston Villa, Leicester City and even Tottenham Hotspur have won more League Cups than Arsenal since 1993, while Swansea City, Blackburn Rovers, Middlesbrough and Birmingham City have all won as many. But given the Gunner have won nine FA Cups and three Premier League titles in that time, their lack of League Cup success has certainly not been down to a lack of quality. Rather it has been a conscious decision by the club and, notably, their long-term boss Arsene Wenger, who was at the helm from 1996 to 2018.
During Wenger’s time at the Gunners, it was usually his policy to pick players for the League Cup matches who were decidedly second-string or even those from the youth system who had never played for the first team. That approach had its advantages, most notably ensuring the first team players were well rested for the games Wenger deemed more important, and also so such players avoided injuries in League Cup games.
But, crucially, it also allowed certain players to catch the manager’s eye by performing well in the League Cup games and thus break into the first team. This happened on many occasions over the years, with the following players making debuts in the League Cup before playing in the Premier League: Ashley Cole, Wojciech Szczesny, Cesc Fabregas, Hector Bellerin and, more recently, Joe Willock.
- League Cup Wins (since 1993) – 1995, 2001, 2003, 2012, 2022
Unlike in the 1970s and 1980s when Liverpool were winning league titles for fun, during the Premier League era, the Reds have had to rely on other competitions for their silverware. Okay, they managed a Premier League crown in 2019/20, but they were more effective in the cup competitions, notably the League Cup.
But they also won the Champions League twice (2005 and 2019) and the Europa League once (2001) during that time. Liverpool, like most clubs, went after as much silverware as they could but – unlike Arsenal – took the League Cup seriously, and it paid dividends.
Given the strike rate the top English sides have enjoyed in the League Cup it is safe to say they take it seriously. This is certainly true once they get through to the last eight, or certainly final four. That said, it is still common for the top sides in the land to make multiple changes to their lineups for the EFL Cup.
That they are still able to win the competition so frequently is, however, a reflection of the fact that the lesser sides, who used to see the League Cup as a chance to win something, now also tend to rest their squad and give fringe players some game time. The financial imperative of PL survival means that the supposedly smaller clubs prioritise the league too, albeit for different reasons to the likes of City and Arsenal. And of course, the bigger clubs have far deeper squads and so when it comes to a battle of the B teams, they invariably come out on top.