Football | League Cup | The two-legged semi-final

As we approach the conclusion of this season’s EFL Cup, Aston Villa, Leicester, Manchester City and Manchester United are all preparing for the second leg of their semi-final ties. With the FA Cup sporting a one-match semi-final played at Wembley, we take a look at how the two-legged tie compares.

Are two legs one leg too many?

The semi-final stage of the League Cup has always been two-legged since the competition began in 1960. The final was also played across two legs until 1966 but has been played over just one ever since.

The EFL is once again having to address the discussion around doing away with two-legged semi-finals. What are some of the reasons behind this, though?

Well, as is increasingly the case, many of the top teams are suffering from fixture congestion, particularly around this stage of the season. There are Champions League and Europa League matches, FA Cup games and, of course, domestic league football. Changing the format of the semi-final would be one way in which the footballing calendar can begin to be streamlined.

The League Cup is often the one that teams choose to sacrifice as they regard the FA Cup as a more valued domestic trophy, while European silverware is always highly sought after. A move to a one-legged semi-final could protect the integrity of the trophy, with teams less likely to dilute their squads.

This season, Liverpool’s Carabao Cup quarter-final against Aston Villa clashed with their Club World Cup semi-final in Qatar. Despite the latter tournament being a less historic prize to contest for, Jurgen Klopp and his first team headed overseas, condemning an elementary Reds outfit to a 5-0 demolition at Villa Park. The Liverpool team that night had an average age of 19 years, six months and three days.

A couple of years ago, when the FA and Premier League were in talks regarding a winter break, the EFL defied calls to make the semi-final a one-legged affair. Instead, they agreed to get rid of extra-time in the Carabao Cup as a compromise to lower the physical demands on players.

It makes sense, in a way, to have two domestic cup competitions that have differing formats. The gloss would be taken off it somewhat if the EFL semi-final was also staged under the famous arch. With just the climax being played out at Wembley, you can argue that it will produce bigger crowds and a greater sense of occasion.

Every year you inevitably have to google whether or not League Cup semi-finals have extra-time, whether away goals count double, and do penalties come in to play? The nuances of this stage of the competition can be a little mind-boggling.

For clarity, the away goals rule was brought in for the 1980-81 edition of the League Cup. Before that, all ties would be replayed if the scores were level on aggregate after 180 minutes, even if contested over two legs.

That said, last season saw the abolishing of away goals and extra-time, meaning the semi-final stage was the only one played out over two legs. Penalties would then ensue if the score was tied after 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, an FA Cup tie would go to a replay if it ends in a draw. A penalty shootout would take place if the the scores are equal after 90 minutes.

While a two-legged semi-final is another fixture to add to the calendar for the bigger teams, it follows that it could bode well for the smaller outfits of the competition to take advantage of weakened, tired opposition.

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