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EFL Cup: Dates, schedule and history

The EFL Cup is one of England's three crown jewels in terms of domestic club football and the first piece of major silverware to be handed out each season.

The EFL Cup, often referred to as the League Cup, is contested by the 92 clubs that make up England's league pyramid – stretching from the Premier League big boys down through the Championship, League 1 and League 2.

The EFL Cup Final is the first sign of spring in domestic football and a tell-tale clue that the season is entering the latter, decisive stages.

While some might view the EFL Cup as the poor relation alongside the Premier League and the FA Cup, it retains plenty of prestige and the fact that a Europa League place is on offer to the winner helps to ensure it is a prize very much worth winning.

Each season, clubs across all divisions have to try to balance their league aspirations against the desire for a 'cup run' and all that it entails.

In recent times, the EFL Cup has been dominated by Premier League teams, with Liverpool and the Manchester clubs, City and United, accounting for every win since 2016, although Birmingham City and Swansea have also lifted the trophy in the last 15 years.

EFL Cup Dates

The EFL Cup has a staggered start, beginning right at the start of the domestic season in August.

The opening two rounds are contested by teams from the Championship down to League 2. The competition gathers momentum through the autumn, with Premier League clubs joining the draw, and the quarter-finals are usually played in early December.

The two-legged semi-finals come along in January with the final taking place on the last Sunday in February, or sometimes the first Sunday in March – depending on how the calendar falls.

EFL Cup format

The 92 clubs of the Football League contest the EFL Cup, joining at various stages in what amounts to a seeded process based on status.

Every EFL team is involved in the opening round. The first round therefore comprises the 24 clubs from each of the Championship, League 1 and League 2 with 36 ties split into north and south sections geographically.

The second round, also divided north and south, sees the 36 remaining clubs joined by the 12 teams from the Premier League that are not competing in any European competition that season.

In round three, the 24 second-round winners are joined by the remaining eight top-flight clubs, bringing the competition to the last-32 stage and a full open draw for knockout ties.

Open draws are conducted after each round thereafter, with the semi-finals being two-legged affairs home and away before the one-off final at Wembley Stadium.

EFL Cup venues

Every ground belonging to a Football League or Premier League club is a possible EFL Cup venue each season, depending on the draws.

The final is usually held at Wembley Stadium on either the last Sunday in February or the first Sunday in March.

When Wembley was being rebuilt, Cardiff's Principality (formerly Millennium) Stadium temporarily hosted the final between 2001 and 2007, as it did with the FA Cup final at that time.

In bygone days when cup final replays were in vogue, Hillsborough, Old Trafford, Villa Park and Maine Road were all used, though the EFL Cup final is now finished on the day, with extra-time and penalties when needed.

EFL Cup how to watch

Sky Sports is the official broadcaster partner of the EFL Cup with their 2023/24 package including 15 live games from the second round up to the final.

ITV has the current rights deal for the terrestrial highlights package, from round one up to and including the final itself.

EFL Cup history

The EFL Cup was first held in 1960/61 as the Football League Cup, the brainchild of former Football League secretary Alan Hardaker. Since 1989/90 the Man of the Match in the final is awarded the Alan Hardaker Trophy.

Depending on vintage, different generations will associate different names with the competition which has been known down the years for sponsorship reasons as the Milk Cup, the Rumbelows Cup, the Coca Cola Cup and the Carling Cup among others. It is currently the Carabao Cup until at least the 2026/27 season.

EFL Cup winners

The first winners in 1960/61 were Aston Villa, courtesy of a 3-2 aggregate win over Rotherham United.

West Brom in 1966 were the last team to win a two-legged final, while the Baggies also lost the first one-off decider a year later to Queens Park Rangers.

The most recent winners were Liverpool, the Reds beating Chelsea 1-0 after extra-time following a late header from Virgil van Dijk. The Anfield club are most successful in EFL Cup history with ten wins.

Manchester City – cup winners four times in succession between 2018 and 2021 under Pep Guardiola – have triumphed eight times in total, while Manchester United have won it on six occasions and Aston Villa and Chelsea have both been victorious in the competition five times.

Birmingham City stunned Arsenal in the 2011 decider and the Blues are the only team this century to win the cup while plying their trade outside the Premier League.

A year later Swansea City – then of the top division – became the first, and so far only, Welsh club to win the trophy when they thrashed Bradford City 5-0.

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