Since its inception the newly renamed Capital One (formerly Carling) Cup has been viewed as a distant priority by the Premier League elite. Utilised as a vehicle by which to blood emerging new talent, or facilitate the rehabilitation of an injured star, fans of true top-class football were often found wanting.
This week, the teams involved in the midweek Capital One duty served up a feast of football that will live long in the memory. Gone was the reluctant, defense-minded approach of recent years, as 21 goals were scored in two astounding games. The teams involved? Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Reading—four Premier League sides.
The cup has had its fair share of excitement in the past, but this was usually confined to Championship or League One sides' heroics, or dramatic upsets.
This was different.
Three of the top five Premiership teams, including the current top two, standing toe-to-toe and dealing out goals by the handful. It was a feast of football fit for the main stage, with ramifications that were only compounded by the fact that both games were shown live on TV.
The stereotypical mediocrity in team selection was also somewhat tempered, with stars including Nani, Juan Mata, David Luiz, Danny Welbeck, Ramires, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott enjoying a run out. Such class in deployment can only lead you quite vehemently to the radical idea that Chelsea, United and Arsenal all wanted to win this competition.
We had two last-gasp equalisers with almost the last kick of the game to force a 3-3 and 4-4 draw in the Chelsea-United and Reading-Arsenal games, respectively. Two teams who were behind for the majority of normal time coming back to win in two extra-time periods in which seven goals were scored. As if that wasn't enough Arsenal completed their heroics from a one-time 4-0 deficit (4-1 at half-time), to draw 4-4 and take the "set" 7-5 at the end of extra-time.
This was the beauty of football in its most raw and unrefined form, attacking proficiency marred by a contagious defensive shambles.
These were games that would make the highlight reel to advertise the English game. This was excitement of a scale that, with the preoccupation with defensive stability and balance in the Premier League, fans rarely get to enjoy.
The ultimate testament for the value of the Capital One cup, however, came in another of the last 16 matches, where Leeds entertained Southampton. The Saints, a Premier League side who had spent £40 million on new recruits over the summer, after their promotion from the Championship, started as favorites.
Yet with an ulterior motive that has typified the Carling Cup in recent seasons, Southampton manager Nigel Adkins made 11 changes to his weekend Premier League side. The result was a victory for football as Leeds ran amok in the makeshift Saints defence, running out 3-0 winners, with almost a full-strength side.
Whether the winds of change are really beginning to blow and the Capital One Cup is starting to be taken seriously, is hard to ascertain at this stage. Yet its viability could hardly have received a greater accolade than what we were treated to this week.
A Capital One performance, you might say. Long may it continue.
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