Early Doors

Holding back the years

Early Doors

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A Michael Owen brace, a Ryan Giggs solo goal, Mikael Forssell lumbering about... There was a touch of the retro Premier League about Tuesday night's Carling Cup action and Early Doors is not sure that it likes it.

ED remembers when the League Cup existed simply for clubs to give their youth teams something approaching a competitive match.

The arguments against England's second-tier cup competition were strong - too many matches take the edge off already overworked players during the testy winter months, there is added expenditure for fans of an already-bloated game, while the tournament itself is a bit poo.

But, went the logic, it is the top clubs who play the most games, and these clubs have big squads and impressive youth teams who can be trotted out to gain experience, match sharpness and the chance to be heartbreakingly relegated to the bench should they get to the final.

However, the decision to hand a Europa League spot through the League Cup suddenly made it 'competitive', with teams outside the traditional top four or five fielding suspiciously strong line-ups, and even the big guns wheeling out the stars from the semis or even quarters onwards.

This added incentive was supposed to revitalise the tournament, although public interest has barely improved and it is still blamed for knackering domestic players for international tournaments.

Last night's matches showed the competition to have gone full circle though, as Manchester United in particular wheeled out the geriatrics for their demolition of Leeds.

Owen appears to have become that rare commodity of a 'League Cup specialist' who isn't under the age of 20, joining the ranks of players like Jeremie Aliadiere and Carlos Vela as not being good enough for a real match. Except he's quite old.

At the turn of the millennium, that would have been a top-four battle. Heck, even Leeds wheeled out Forssell - admittedly minus knees - with Andy O'Brien clogging up the bench.

For United though it marks a strategic change for Sir Alex Ferguson as he seeks to reach something approaching parity with Barcelona.

It was always said that you cannot buy experience but football at the absolute highest level has become a young man's game. It requires technical mastery at breakneck speed, with the risk-taking vigour that youth brings.

It requires pace, whether incessant and driving - like Manchester United - or simply the ability to change tempo instantaneously after passing one's opponents into a coma, a la Barca.

Obviously there are exceptions to the rule - such as yogi Giggs - but a brief glance at the top four of the Premier League at this early stage shows both Manchester clubs followed by a revitalised Chelsea and the youthful, Nolan-free Newcastle (could Mike Ashley and Alan Pardew have been right after all?).

Which, ultimately, means the only place for the likes of Owen and - gulp - Dimitar Berbatov are wet Tuesday nights against lower league opposition.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: In contrast to United, Arsenal did go with youth, but it's not like they have much else to offer these days. ED is also happy to see that the renowned pensioners of Chelsea will field the kids, although it is a touch concerned at who's calling the shots. "The owner has told me it will be the club's philosophy to use the Carling Cup to promote young talent," Andre Villas-Boas said. "This match gives us an opportunity to push our best young talents and give them experience. It is a good challenge against Premier League opponents that gives us an idea of where we stand with the young players we are trying to bring through."

FOREIGN VIEW: If Arsene Wenger thinks he's got it bad, he should spare a thought for Inter Milan counterpart Gian Piero Gasperini. The exciting reputation he earned as Genoa boss is on the brink of ruin after Inter lost their third game of the season, again to 'inferior' opposition, in a 3-1 defeat to promoted Novara. Even Genoa sacked him for less. Ciao, bello.

COMING UP: More Carling Cup coverage as Chelsea's juniors play local rivals Fulham, while Manchester City host holders Birmingham and Liverpool face a potential banana skin in a trip to Brighton. There is also a host of Spanish and Italian action, crowned by Valencia's late match against Barcelona (Real Madrid are also in action), while Milan-Udinese heads our Serie A coverage. Jim White will also have his say on the week of football, while Barca-based Andy Mitten gives the view from Spain.

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