The final non-league competition that English Premier League teams compete in is the EFL Cup. And unlike the FA Cup, which every team in the English Football Association competes, the EFL Cup is only open to the top four tiers – the Premier League, the Championship, League One and League Two – of English football. With matches kicking of this tournament starting on August 14th, I figured now would be a great time to give a breakdown of the tournament that runs concurrently with all the other English leagues.
In the Premier League era, which started in 1992-1993, the EFL Cup has never been won by a team outside of the Premier League. However, unlike the FA Cup, teams below the top tier have found some level of success. Bristol City from the Championship was a semifinalist last season, Sheffield United made the semifinals in 2015 while toiling in League One, and Bradford City, a League Two team, played in the final against Swansea City in 2013, the first Tier 4 team in the final in over 50 years.
But of the 104 EFL Cup semifinalists over the 26 completed seasons of the Premier League, 82 teams have been from the Premier League, and only six EFL cup finals have been contested with one team from outside the Premier League – the aforementioned Bradford City team, three teams from the Championship, and two teams from what is now known as League One.
The first round begins with 70 teams, made up of the 24 teams from League One and League Two and 22 teams from the Championship. There will be four games in the first round between Championship teams, but there are also going to be four games pitting League Two teams against each other, meaning that at least four teams from Tier 4 will make it to the second round.
In the second round, the two remaining teams from the Championship – this year it is Stoke City and Swansea City – enter the fray against the 35 winners from the first round, as well as the 13 teams from the Premier League that aren’t competing in the UEFA competitions, resulting in 25 games. Finally, in the third round, the remaining 7 Premier League teams join the tournament against those winners, and the winners from subsequent rounds fight through to the finals.
The winner of the EFL Cup gets an entry into the UEFA Europa League the following season, unless they are already qualified for the UEFA Champions League through other means. As I mentioned in my Europa League primer, the English Football Association sends three teams outright to that competition – the two cup winners and the 5th place team – unless there are teams otherwise qualified for the Champions League.
For example, the current EFL Cup holder, Manchester City, won the Premier League last season, giving them a place in the Champions League. The FA Cup winner, Chelsea, finished fifth in the Premier League, so their spot in Europa League went to the 6th place finisher Arsenal. This led the third entry to fall down the table to Burnley, the 7th place finisher in the Premier League.
The EFL Cup isn’t as lucrative as the other competitions, with the winning team only securing about $130,000 (£100,000) in prize money (as well as their share of the gate receipts), so it may be more worthwhile for the entry into Europa League. There is also some bragging rights associated with it among the teams, but since the advent of the Champions and Europa Leagues in their current lucrative formats, the domestic cups have lost a bit of their luster. Nevertheless, it is still exciting for the fans of the teams that aren’t competing for spots in the Champions League.
We’ll keep an eye this and the other non-league competitions throughout the season, especially as teams that might meet in league play play for the third (or fourth) time during the course of the season. Will the EFL Cup again go to a Top 4 finisher from the Premier League, or will this be the season that a non-Premier League team breaks through? We’ll find out over the course of the tournament leading up to the final at Wembley Stadium on February 24th.
Until next time…