Blackburn’s penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea in the Carling Cup has further cemented a revival in the competition’s fortunes after years in the doldrums.
Teams from outside the top six or seven in the Premier League (in terms of league position or transfer spending) can once more dream of lifting silverware, right?
Can they hell as like.
That Chelsea made eight changes from their previous game (a Premier League fixture with Arsenal that really mattered), played for around an hour with 10 men and still took the match to penalties tells all you need to know about the cavernous gulf between the top sides and the rest.
To be fair to England’s junior domestic knockout tournament (although the FA Cup’s gloss has also long since been muddied) there are the occasional jokers in the pack to lighten the mood.
Burnley knocked out several Premier League clubs on their way to the semi-finals last season and were within a few minutes of defeating a tottering Spurs in the last four.
But they couldn’t quite manage it.
And, had they done so, they wouldn’t have beaten a predominantly second-sting Manchester United in the Final.
Those things just don’t happen anymore.
There was a period in the late nineties and early noughties when the League Cup (under its various sponsor guises) brought up surprise winners on a regular basis.
That all changed when an Abramovich-era Chelsea decided to treat the competition as one worth winning.
It appears to be gettin
g a little beneath them again, yet the strength of their squad is such that their scratch team at Ewood Park contained the German captain along with a whole host of other pivotal members of their respective national set-ups.
The point is – had Chelsea really wanted to win Wednesday’s game they would have done.
Yet despite the loss of one football superpower we are now left with Blackburn as the quaint underdog in the last four.
Joining them is the most popular club in the world, the club with the deepest pockets in the world and, let’s face it, in Aston Villa we hardly have a minnow.
Having said that, if Aston Villa should surprise either Manchester club in the final (I am making the assumption that Blackburn will be plucky, but gallant losers over the course of their semi-final meetings) then it will be only the second time in six years that the winner has come from outside the old-skool ‘Big Four’ (and even that team was Tottenham, who are not exactly one of life’s paupers).
Middlesbrough, Blackburn and Leicester may have all won the League Cup in the last 10 years but any such belief that every dog has his day can now be consigned to the pound with the other mongrels.
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti showed just what lengths must be gone to in order to sabotage the League Cup challenge of one of the top clubs.
Best make it interesting and start with nine men next time, Carlo.
Blackburn might even have won in 90 minutes that way.