It’s mid-July, and that means the Scottish football season is under way. Here’s everything you need to know about the Betfred League Cup
Motherwell v Morton, Betfred Scottish League Cup 2019, Friday 19 July, 7.15pm, BT Sport 1 HD (CH 527)
English football followers might still be frowning at the calendar wondering when the new season starts, but fans in Scotland woke up last Saturday and shouted “Today’s the day!” For it was then that the Scottish League Cup kicked off nine months of footballing agony and ecstasy for fans across the country.
Yes, it’s July, which means many a fan has only just departed for a fortnight on the loungers at Benidorm, while others are still on the sofa biting their nails in anticipation of the Love Island finale. But the football’s season’s here – so embrace it!
Not only does the competition have an unusual format, it ends early too, with the final before Christmas. So, we hear you cry, what’s the deal? What’s with the weird timing? And who can possibly beat treble treble winners Celtic to the trophy? Well, dear reader, here’s our lowdown on all things Scottish League Cup, and the teams we think could upset the Hoops’ dominance…
Football? In July?
The League Cup (aka Betfred Cup) was comprehensively revamped in 2015 to allow for the reintroduction of a winter break, something that had been axed in the 2002-2003 season. With the danger of multiple match postponements and the consequent fixture pile-up, this was desired by clubs and fans – and the added benefit is competitive summer football. No complaints here!
As the name suggests, it’s a cup competition organised by the Scottish League (much like its English equivalent, currently known as the Carabao Cup), and it’s open to League clubs plus the champions of last season’s Highland and Lowland Leagues. So far, so straightforward. However, it’s structured quite differently from the traditional knockout format…
How does it work, then?
The first round consists of a group stage, in which eight groups of five teams duke it out to make it to the second round. The eight group winners go through, then the eight second-placed teams go into another group to decide which four of them get through. Clear so far?
The second round is where the four teams competing in UEFA competitions (this season that’s Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock) enter the fray alongside the 12 teams that progressed from the first stage. The format then changes to a straight knockout round leading to December’s Hampden finale.
Though Celtic have won four of the past five League Cup titles, there’s a new manager at Celtic Park in Neil Lennon and they’ve lost some of the squad that dominated domestically last year – and with a resurgent Rangers looking fiery under Steven Gerrard, there’s every chance Celtic could be dethroned this season. So which other teams are in contention?
Though their form before Lennon’s sudden sacking in January (and move to Celtic) was inconsistent to say the least, Hibernian looked a different team under new head coach Paul Heckingbottom. A squad stacked with potential – like 23-year-old midfielder Stevie Malland – should progress to the second round and, if or when they do, Hibs have more than enough about them to give Glasgow’s Old Firm big hitters a scare.
Heart Of Midlothian
Hearts came out punching last season and were top until November, but injuries soon led to a slip down the table. League form aside, however, they had a season that could give them the belief needed to grab some silverware: Craig Levein’s side reached the semi-final of the League Cup and the final of the Scottish Cup, losing both to Celtic. Bolstering the team with new faces like Northern Ireland striker Conor Washington will only strengthen Levein’s squad, and possibly help them go that one step further.
Newly promoted to the Premiership, County likely won’t be tipped by many to challenge at the top this season – and yet there is a fire and fury about co-managers Steven Ferguson and Stuart Kettlewell’s team. After an impressive Championship campaign that saw them take the title last season, the Staggies have every chance of causing an upset should they reach the second round for the second season in succession. And, after all, they were the last non-Celtic team to win it…
Much like Ross County, last season United were a rugged, well drilled team that, unlike County, narrowly missed out on a place in the Premiership after losing to St Mirren in the play-offs. Though manager Robbie Nielson’s focus may well be on the league, their play-off performance (they drew with the Saints over two legs and lost only on penalties) showed they certainly have what it takes to give the Premiership sides a game. The Tangerines will fancy their chances of getting to the second round and, if they do, could well prove to be a surprise package.
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Craving more summertime footy? Then look no further...
If the Scottish League Cup has given you a craving for more sun-soaked summer football action, then LFCTV (CH 544) may well be the channel for you... provided you're a Liverpool fan, of course. If not, well, the prospect of watching the recently crowned European champions take on some of the continent’s best sides is tempting for any footy fan. Here’s the full list of summer fixtures on LFCTV:
Liverpool v Borussia Dortmund, Saturday 20 July, 1am (Notre Dame Stadium)
Liverpool v Sevilla, Sunday 21 July, 11pm (Fenway Park)
Liverpool v Sporting Lisbon, Thursday 25 July, 1am (Yankee Stadium)
Liverpool v Napoli, Sunday 28 July, 5pm (Murrayfield)
Liverpool v Lyon, Wednesday 31 July, 6pm (Stade de Genève)
Liverpool v Schalke, Tuesday 6 August, 7pm (Anfield)
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