There is an argument of increasing strength that the League Cup has now overtaken the FA Cup in many Premier League managers’ list of priorities.
The fact that the competition is completed by February eases concerns about fixture congestion at the business end of the season, while the lack of replays is another positive aspect of the tournament for top-flight managers.
Jose Mourinho is one man who has always had a soft spot for the less traditional of English football’s knockout competitions. While he has only once won the FA Cup, guiding former club Chelsea to a 1-0 victory over Manchester United in 2007, the Portuguese has three League Cup winner’s medals in his collection.
In a little under seven weeks’ time, he may have a fourth — a haul that only Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson have managed to amass.
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The first leg of United’s semi-final with Hull City ended in a comfortable 2-0 victory on Tuesday night, second-half goals from Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini putting Mourinho’s men in firm control of the tie as they eye a meeting with either Liverpool or Southampton in next month’s Wembley final.
United dominated for long periods at Old Trafford, and although they were forced to remain patient as they searched for the breakthrough against their relegation-threatened opponents, it is difficult to envisage Marco Silva’s side overturning a two-goal deficit at the KCOM Stadium in two weeks.
Mourinho, it would seem, remains fully aware of the benefits that success in the League Cup can bring to a manager who has only recently taken charge of a new club.
A 3-2 victory over Liverpool in February 2005 brought the former Porto manager his first trophy at Chelsea less than nine months after his arrival at Stamford Bridge. That piece of silverware may not be remembered as fondly by fans as the Premier League titles that followed, but it was the League Cup that provided the first tangible prize of the Mourinho era and served as a watershed moment around which both supporters and players were able to rally.
It also helped to imbue the Chelsea squad with the type of winning feeling that they became used to in subsequent seasons, as well as fostering a particular mentality at a club that had only sporadically filled its trophy cabinet in the two preceding decades.
Mourinho also led Chelsea to victory in the 2007 edition, before being similarly rewarded for taking the competition seriously in the second year of his second spell in 2015.
Unlike when he first arrived at Chelsea 13 years ago, Mourinho now finds himself at the helm of a club that is used to winning silverware on a regular basis. While the FA Cup won by Louis van Gaal’s team last season was the first trophy secured since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, United fans still expect to see their team to be challenging for major honours every year.
Another successful day out at Wembley could be the catalyst for future glory. Mourinho’s Old Trafford tenure will ultimately be judged on how well his side performs in the Premier League and Uefa Champions League, but victory in the League Cup in February would not be a bad place to start.
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