In the past, I have felt that cup competitions are an unnecessary distraction from the league. I have always thought that, outside the top division, teams struggle to sustain a cup run and progression in the league at the same time. The financial reward which goes along with cup success is grossly inadequate in comparison to the income gained from a return to the Premier League, so teams like Leeds United should bow out of cup competitions early on and focus on what’s important.
However, this season I have been proven wrong. Garry Monk and the Leeds players have sparked something inside of me which I never expected to feel - a genuine enjoyment and excitement with regard to the League (EFL) Cup.
I will admit that this does have something to do with the fact that we also have a successful campaign at present, but it goes beyond that. I had the pleasure of watching Leeds vs. Norwich in the last round at Elland Road, and I saw the players give everything, I saw a team spirit and togetherness that I haven’t seen at the club for years. For 120 minutes (and penalties), every Leeds player gave everything for the cause and deservedly got their reward with a win and a quarter-final fixture with Liverpool.
Performances in the league have given us all a sense that Leeds can finally achieve the success a club of our statue should. The performance that night and the manner of the victory galvanised everyone associated with the club and left us with a thrill I would never have expected in a league cup game.
So now, on Tuesday night, Leeds will travel to Anfield as the underdogs, to face an on-form Liverpool side for the chance to reach the semi-final of a major cup for the first time since our Champions League days.
We all expect a difficult game, but from what I have seen this season, the Leeds players will be focused and ready to give it everything. They clearly have to upset the odds to beat Liverpool in their own back yard, but anything is possible.
Since our fall from grace I have often had to deal with ridicule from Liverpool fans. They seem to take pride in Leeds’ struggles over the last 13 years, as if they played a sufficient role in this. I presume that this stems from the fact that most of the fans I know are Leeds-born Liverpool fans, and they are trying to validate their decision to support the Reds instead of the Whites.
Liverpool vs Leeds United in the EFL Cup. I think pretty much safe to say we're through to the semi-finals #LFC— #BossTha!!! (@noko_Kay) October 27, 2016
One Liverpool fan online even threatened to castrate himself if Leeds win... I don’t expect him to follow through on his promise, but the #LUFC Twitter brigade won’t let him forget about it if we walk away with the victory.
The game is a reminder of what is achievable when you have the correct system in place at a club. Leeds vs. Liverpool was once a fixture with big distinction. However, circumstances have clearly changed and, for most, the fixture is nothing but a distant memory. For others, it is a game that they have only seen on computer games.
To be fair, whatever the result on Tuesday, I hope the commitment shown throughout this season will once again be on show. That in itself would be a major confidence booster looking ahead at what I am hoping will be the most promising season since our arrival back in the Championship.
At Elland Road on the 25th of October, I witnessed a Leeds team full of drive and determination not to be beaten. If the Leeds players can replicate that on Tuesday, then Liverpool won’t know what’s hit them.
And maybe, just maybe, a trip to Wembley might come a little earlier than we originally planned. MOT.