So it’s come to this, another Conti Cup article. Having already tried to explain what the competition is, why it exists and whether it’s a worthwhile thing or not this season, I’m inexplicably back talking about the English league cup.
Goals on goals
The penultimate round of group fixtures took place over Wednesday and Thursday, with seven of the 11 matches pitting top tier teams against part-time second tier sides and the results were... Imma be real, the results were not just predictable but largely gross (and also, groß) with 60 goals scored over the 11 matches. SIXTY.
The most goal-heavy match? Manchester United’s 11-1 home win over second-tier Leicester City (the Foxes not just part-time but handing debuts to three of their starting XI). The closest two matches? Charlton Athletic 1-0 London City Lionesses and Coventry United 2-2 Aston Villa (all four playing in the second tier, although both LCL and Villa are purportedly full-time).
The scores from Thursday’s matches were so gobsmacking that the WSL Twitter account quickly back-tracked and deleted their initial “Wow” tweet (but not before it was screenshotted by a quick-fingered SBNation’er). And maybe we shouldn’t be celebrating United’s complete dismantling of a part-time team with an average age of 19, or glorifying Liverpool gnashing at a side only recently promoted from the third tier. It would almost be okay if it was just one result of the 11 (or even just Thursday’s six) that was so deeply one-sided, but it was almost every match that carried a, “What the fuck” scoreline.
Refresh and rotate
Arsenal’s coach, Joe Montemurro talked of resting players but still fielded XI full internationals. He went easy on Bristol City by dropping Leah Williamson to the bench and starting the Austria captain, Viktoria Schnaderbeck in the backline. How thoughtful. Away to the London Bees, Brighton didn’t put out their strongest 11 players – with manager, Hope Powell handing a debut to teenager, Libby Bance – but a full-time team against a part-time one, still ran riot in the second half.
One of the only three matches that pitted WSL teams against each other, Bristol went into their match against Arsenal with a chance of progressing from the group stage but conceding a second goal – an own goal no less – on the stroke of half-time clearly knocked the stuffing out of the team. By the time Kim Little had converted a second-half penalty, the team – one with one of the smallest budgets in the league – all but switched off, the goals getting sloppier as Arsenal’s tally grew and grew.
Midweek Conti Cup fixtures have to go next season! Really stacks the deck against the semi pro sides to do anything against some really good WSL sides. Enjoy the challenge and competition but the midweeks need to be scrapped for me.— Lee Burch (@burchy9) November 21, 2019
For teams with no chance of progressing, especially those part-timers in the second tier who’ve rushed to matches after a full day of work or school, there is almost a forgiveness given for letting their heads drop. Leicester City and the three debutantes in their starting line up could do little to stop United as the goals flew in, just one team of many pummelled into submission up and down the country this midweek.
Shut it down
Again, the call [from me] is to scrap the group stage to give second tier teams a fair chance of progressing. And when you look at Group C, with part-time Leicester City and four full-time professional WSL sides, you have to wonder what possible hope the Foxes would ever have had? Even in six-team Group D, there are four top tier teams and two part-timers from the Championship. Unironically, second tier Lewes have played some of their best football in the cup – and ran both Chelsea and Reading within one – but they still sit at the bottom of the group with no points from four matches.
There is of course experience to be had, and the extra games give peripheral players a chance to get minutes and of the 11 matches this week, 15 players made first team debuts (with nine of them getting starts).
Yet it all feels like some sort of cruel and unusual punishment to ask players who’ve just played on Sunday, who’ve spent all day working or studying to play 90 minutes in the freezing cold against a full-time team, knowing full well they’ll get home late and only get a couple of hours of sleep before they have to get up and go back to work or school.
The crowds for midweek games are even worse than the usual weekend ones in the cup, the wintry contentions doing little to entice more fans in this week. The scores gleefully posted are not the type to encourage fans in, the sport almost mocking itself. It’s surely time for a change?