The English Football League (EFL) Cup, usually referred to as just the League Cup, is a trophy contested between clubs in the top four divisions in English Football. These are the Premier League, Championship, League One and League Two.
This is one of three domestic major honours in English football alongside the Premier League Champions and the FA Cup winners. As the final for this competition is usually played in February, it is the first chance each season clubs in England get to claim silverware.
The first competition was held during the 1960/61 season when Aston Villa defeated Rotherham United 3-2 on aggregate over a two-legged final. This changed to a single final, normally held at Wembley Stadium, from 1966/67. The most successful League Cup club is Liverpool who have won the trophy nine time. Manchester City are second with eight wins, four in a row between 2018 and 2021.
This cup is often titled as the tournament sponsor. This is currently Carabao but has been Capital One, Carling, Coca-Cola and the Milk Marketing Board amongst others in the past.
EFL League Cup Final Winners By Year
|2021||Manchester City||1–0||Tottenham Hotspur|
|2020||Manchester City||2–1||Aston Villa|
|2013||Swansea City||5–0||Bradford City|
|2010||Manchester United||2–1||Aston Villa|
|2009||Manchester United||0–0||Tottenham Hotspur|
|2006||Manchester United||4–0||Wigan Athletic|
|2002||Blackburn Rovers||2–1||Tottenham Hotspur|
|2000||Leicester City||2–1||Tranmere Rovers|
|1999||Tottenham Hotspur||1–0||Leicester City|
|1996||Aston Villa||3–0||Leeds United|
|1994||Aston Villa||3–1||Manchester United|
|1992||Manchester United||1–0||Nottingham Forest|
|1991||Sheffield Wednesday||1–0||Manchester United|
|1990||Nottingham Forest||1–0||Oldham Athletic|
|1989||Nottingham Forest||3–1||Luton Town|
|1986||Oxford United||3–0||Queens Park Rangers|
|1981||Liverpool||1–1||West Ham United|
|1981||Liverpool||2–1||West Ham United|
|1980||Wolverhampton Wanderers||1–0||Nottingham Forest|
|1976||Manchester City||2–1||Newcastle United|
|1975||Aston Villa||1–0||Norwich City|
|1974||Wolverhampton Wanderers||2–1||Manchester City|
|1973||Tottenham Hotspur||1–0||Norwich City|
|1971||Tottenham Hotspur||2–0||Aston Villa|
|1970||Manchester City||2–1||West Bromwich Albion|
|1967||Queens Park Rangers||3–2||West Bromwich Albion|
|1966||West Bromwich Albion||5-3 agg||West Ham United|
|1965||Chelsea||3–2 agg||Leicester City|
|1964||Leicester City||4-3 agg||Stoke City|
|1963||Birmingham City||3–1 agg||Aston Villa|
|1962||Norwich City||4–0 agg||Rochdale|
|1961||Aston Villa||3-2 agg||Rotherham United|
About the League Cup
For most of the very top clubs in England, there are four trophies up for grabs each season. In additional to a European title, for example the Champions League, a Premier League title and the FA Cup, there is also the League Cup. The League Cup, also known as the EFL Cup (and whatever its current sponsored name is – the Carabao Cup at the time of writing), is unquestionably the least prestigious of the bunch and in the past its importance has often been played down. In 2010, Arsene Wenger deemed the competition so insignificant that he claimed winning it would not end his trophy drought. It is not just managers who view the competition this way either, with many fans mockingly describing this competition as the Mickey Mouse Cup.
Despite its critics though, the League Cup is something that others will staunchly defend. Indeed, Martin O’Neill called Wenger a hypocrite over his criticism back in 2010, adding that he and many others believed it was a very important competition. Although many teams may not treat it too seriously in the earlier rounds, a time in which squad rotation is favoured, managers have traditionally named stronger line-ups as the tournament progresses.
It would therefore be wrong to think there is a feeling of indifference to this competition and this is evident in the list of winning sides. Especially in recent years, the League Cup has been dominated by the top Premier League clubs, who have proven hungry for as many trophies as possible. It is also an essential piece of silverware for any extremely ambitious team wanting to land a historic quadruple. On top of that, it can often provide a timely boost to sides given it is the first trophy-proper (if we exclude the Community Shield) of the season.
All 72 Football League clubs and 20 Premier League outfits take part in this competition which operates entirely on a knockout basis from start to finish. Most clubs start at the very first stage but a considerable number join during round two and an elite handful begin even later during round three. This means winning this competition can take as many as winning seven ties, or as few as five.
To get a complete overview of how the EFL Cup is structured, take a look at the table below. Overall the competition sees 92 teams feature but like with all cup competitions, there can be only one winner from these.
League Cup Entry by Round
|Round||New Teams||Total Teams||Tiers Entering||Matches|
|First||70||70||4, 3, 2||35|
|Semi-Finals||0||4||–||4 (2 legs)|
With the exception of the semi-final, all matches across the competition feature just one leg and there are no replays. In the case of the penultimate round, this takes place over two legs with each side playing a match at their own ground. Should any game earlier in the tournament than this end as a draw after 90 minutes, a penalty shootout will be immediately called upon.
There is no extra time during the first five rounds of the competition but it is written into the tournament rules for the semi-final and final. In the case of the semi-final, extra time will only be used in the second leg if the scores are level on aggregate (away goal rules do not apply).
The very first round of the League Cup sees all sides from League One (24) and League Two (24) involved as well as all but two Championship teams (22). The two Championship teams that manage to avoid the first round are not selected at random, rather they will be whoever finished 18th and 19th in the Premier League during the previous season. With 70 teams entered initially, this means there are 35 fixtures and 35 winners that progress to round two. The first-round draw is split into a northern section and southern section to prevent teams and fans having to make any extremely long journeys.
In the second round, a fresh batch of new clubs join those that won at the opening stage. In addition to the two left-out Championship clubs you will also see 13 Premier League sides that are not involved in a European competition join the EFL Cup. Fifteen new sides plus the 35 winning round teams produces means there are 25 round two fixtures. As before, the north/south divide remains for this round as far as is possible.
Moving onto round three, this is when the final seven Premier League outfits, those involved in a European competition, finally enter the draw. It is at this stage when the geographical split is removed meaning that any side can potentially face any other as the numbered balls are selected. With the added teams involved, this means there are 32 clubs in the third round, resulting in 16 knockout fixtures and a more standard cup format.
The 16 teams that progress from the third round make it to, you guessed it, the fourth round. No new teams are added from this point onwards so it is simply a straightforward knockout until the very end. Fourth round winners become quarter-finalists and the four sides able to win once again will proceed to a two-legged semi-final. In 2020/21, the tournament opted for a one-legged semi-final but only due to the fixture congestion caused by match postponements. Despite some chatter about this staying on as a permanent change, the traditional two-legged semi returned the following year.
When ditching the two-legged final approach way back in 1967, Wembley became the host of the League Cup climax. It did not however host any replays with these taking at a variety of other stadiums including Hillsborough, Old Trafford, Villa Park and Maine Road, all of which were neutral grounds rather than one team’s home stadium. The only other finals since 1967 not held at Wembley took place in the gap between the old Wembley closing and the new Wembley being built. During this interim period, seven League Cup finals took place in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Since featuring at ‘new’ Wembley, the League Cup final has consistently attracted a huge number of fans. The attendance has never slumped below 80,000 apart from in 2020 which saw Wembley cap numbers at around 8,000 due to the restrictions that were in place. Excluding this, between 2008 and 2022 the average final attendance sat at over 86,000 making this one of the best attended cup finals in the whole of Europe. Not bad for a so-called Mickey Mouse event.
These days fans are guaranteed to see a winner on the day as replayed finals have not been seen since the 1990s. There is very little appetite for them to return either with most people in support of the current approach of extra time followed by a penalty shootout if required. This rule change has helped prevent several replays as penalties have settled a number of finals, most recently 2012, 2016, 2019 and 2022. No matter via what means a team manages victory, in doing so they secure a couple of things. As well as a physical prize (trophy and winners’ medals), a League Cup champion also secures a place in the Europa Conference League for the following season.
Previously League Cup winners would qualify for the more prestigious Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup) but the rules were changed in 2020/21 when the Conference League was founded. Still, even this is quite generous as England and France are the only UEFA members able to offer a European football place for winning their second cup competition. For some this can be a real incentive to take this competition seriously as winning a knockout competition is more achievable than securing European football via a high league finish (at worst 7th depending on who wins both domestic cups).
Should the EFL Cup winners qualify for the Champions League or Europa League via their league finish (top 5) or by winning the FA Cup, the spot will go to the next highest team in the league without European football. Given the dominance of the bigger sides in this competition in recent times, that is likely to be the case most years.
The vast majority of League Cups have featured all 92 teams from the top four tiers of English football. The very early years did see a few less than this though with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Wolves only participating for the first time in 1966. Since its foundation, the League Cup has always been a knockout cup tournament (no group stage) and it has long allowed the best teams in England (and Wales) to join the competition at a later stage, skipping either the first or first two rounds.
There was much less concern surrounding fixture congestion and player fatigue than there is today though. For an extended period, the League Cup would see replays in the event that two sides tied their original clash. The replays themselves would feature extra time if the scores were level but if no side could find the decisive goal then yet another replay would be scheduled.
Second replays were not especially rare and there are a few examples of ties requiring three replays such as Chester v Tranmere in 1968. If this wasn’t enough, semi-finals were played over two legs and even the final itself, for the first six years of the competition, followed the same two-legged format.
So, while today it can take a team as few as six matches to lift the trophy and a maximum of eight, in the 1960s it often took more than this. Inaugural champions Aston Villa for instances played a huge 12 matches before getting their hands on the trophy in 1961, despite skipping the first round, thanks to facing four replays and a pair of two-legged matches.
By the late 1980s, some rounds within the competition had abandoned replays but were instead played over two legs, meaning that the schedule was even more packed. When teams ended up level after 180 minutes of football, the team with the most away goals would progress. If both teams had an equal tally of away goals extra time was called upon followed by a penalty shootout, something not seen in the competition previously.
This only applied to the first two rounds though with the one-legged third and fourth rounds still employing replays as before. The semi-finals remained a two-legged affair but this stage abandoned replays so there would be no repeat of 1986/87 which saw Tottenham and Arsenal face each other three times within the space of less than a month. These two rivals were no doubt sick of the sight of each other before the first encounter, let alone the last. Rather than another replay, tied semi-finals headed to penalties (after extra time) and the first to win a semi-final match this way were Aston Villa as they edged past Tranmere Rovers 5-4 in 1994.
Replays did however carry on for the final, with the Football League not willing to embrace penalty shootouts for the climatic finish quite so soon. It was not too long after before a change in rules saw all finals settled there and then on the day though. Liverpool were the first team to benefit from this rule change in 2001 as they beat Birmingham City in the 12-yard battle of wits at the Millennium Stadium.
As for more modern changes to the competition, as mentioned before the League Cup winner no longer receives a place in next year’s Europa League, rather they will head into the Conference League instead. There were also a changes just before this in 2018 such as the scrapping of extra time (except in the final) with all matches heading straight to a penalty shootout after 90 minutes were up.
The briefly trialled ABBA penalty system was also scrapped this year with the usual ABAB format returning. Lastly, seeding was removed meaning that Championship sides could now face a fellow side from their division in the first round. Similarly, Premier League clubs could now be drawn together when entering into the second round.
Most Successful Clubs
For many middling (or struggling) Premier League clubs, the League Club represents their best shot of securing a rare taste of European football. Despite this incentive though, the financial imperative of Premier League survival means that many managers always prioritise the league over England’s second cup competition and will make wholesale changes to their squad. This is part of the reason why this competition has been increasingly dominated by the Premier League elite who can more easily rotate players without seeing such a large drop in quality. Between 2005 and 2022, only two EFL Cup winners were not part of the so-called ‘big six’.
It is not just the winners either, the majority of recent finals have been contested by a pair of top-six teams. In the 18 finals played during the aforementioned period, 10 of them featured two of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd or Tottenham. Rather unsurprisingly, all of these have multiple League Cup wins as you can see from the table below.
In addition to the names above, 11 teams (West Brom, Middlesborough, QPR, Leeds, Stoke, Luton, Sheff Wed, Swindon, Oxford, Blackburn, Swansea) have secured League Cup glory on one solitary occasion. These days it is extremely hard to imagine a non-Premier League team winning the competition but it has happened previously on a number of occasions.
Norwich, QPR, Swindon and Aston Villa have all gone all the way despite being outside of the top-tier of English football. It has not been done since Sheffield Wednesday in 1991 however, with the Owls then part of the Second Division (now Championship).
Non-Premier League clubs have been able to reach as far as the final more recently though, with the latest examples being Cardiff City in 2012 and Bradford the following year. Bradford’s achievement was especially impressive as they were in League Two at the time, the fourth tier of English football. It was a feat that no fourth-tier had managed in over 50 years, not since Rochdale in 1961/62. The final step proved far too great for the Bantams though as they ended up on the receiving end of the worst defeat in League Cup final history when being hammered 5-0 by Swansea.
For the first two decades of its existence, the League Cup had no sponsored title and simply ran as the Football League Cup. At the start of the eighties though, the money proved too tempting and the name of the cup was subsequently changed. In the first two sponsorship deals struck, the sponsors also designed their own trophy whereas all others have simply stuck with the original design. The competition has been sponsored every year since 1981 except for the 2016/17 season as Capital One pulled the plug on their arrangement and a replacement was not found in sufficient time.
League Cup Sponsors: 1981 – 2022
|1981/82 – 1985/86||Milk Cup|
|1986/87 – 1989/90||Littlewoods Challenge Cup|
|1990/91 – 1991/92||Rumbelows Cup|
|1992/93 – 1997/98||Coca-Cola Cup|
|1998/99 – 2002/03||Worthington Cup|
|2003/04 – 2011/12||Carling Cup|
|2012/13 – 2015/16||Capital One Cup|
|2017/18 – 2023/24||Carabao Cup|
League Cup History
Stanley Rous came up with the original idea for a League Cup on the grounds it could serve as a consolation competition for teams knocked out of the FA Cup. This idea was pursued by Football League secretary Alan Hardaker who wanted a way of clubs to recover lost revenue caused by a reduction in matches when the leagues were restructured. Although this restructuring was not due to take place imminently, the League Cup emerged anyway, starting in 1960/61.
Football League President Joe Richards paid for the original trophy out of his own pocket and even engraved his own name on it. At the time football attendances across the country were declining so the League Cup was seen as a way of getting more fans through the turnstiles. Aiding their cause was the fact that during the late 1950s, most stadiums introduced floodlights, allowing for evening matches to be played. Early reaction to the competition was mixed, with some journalists believing it simply added quantity over quality to the schedule. Clubs were fairly split on the idea too with 16 voting against the competition and 31 in favour.
During its first year, the League Cup averaged an attendance of 10,556, just a little higher than the third-tier league average. A few years later, with the competition firmly established, the Football League gained some extra leverage. Using this, Hardaker threatened to boycott the UEFA Cup unless the League Cup winner was given a European football slot. UEFA agreed to the proposal, providing the cup winners were in the First Division. Tottenham were the first team to benefit from this rule change when lifting the League Cup in 1970/71.
With the prize of European football combined with a Wembley final, the League Cup was suddenly a much more attractive contest for the top clubs in England. Subsequently, sides began rarely declining the invitation to take part but participation was made compulsory in any case starting in 1971. This rule has been in place ever since so even when English clubs were banned from European football between 1985 and 1990, all Football League teams still took part in the League Cup.
League Cup Facts
We leave you with some of the key records that have been set in this competition over its 60+ year history.
- Most Goals in One Year – Clive Allen who scored 12 goals when Tottenham went as far as the semi-finals in 1986/87
- Most Goals in One Match – Nobody has been able to surpass the six goals scored by Oldham’s Frankie Bunn against Scarborough in 1989
- Biggest Win – Both West Ham and Liverpool have won a League Cup match 10 – 0, with the victories coming over Bury and Fulham respectively
- Highest Scoring Game – This record is shared by Reading 5 – 7 Arsenal and Dagenham & Redbridge 6 – 6 Brentford, both of which went to extra time
- Most Penalties in a Shootout – Derby County and Carlisle United took 32 penalties between them in a 2016 clash with the former prevailing 14-13.
- Youngest Player – Harvey Elliot was just 15 years and 174 days when playing for Fulham against Millwall in 2018
- Youngest Scorer in a Final – Manchester United’s Norman Whiteside was 17 years and 323 days old when opening the scoring after just 12 minutes against Liverpool (but his team went on to lose the match)
- Most Consecutive Wins – Both Liverpool (1981-1984 inclusive) and Man City (2018-2021) have won the League Cup four years in a row