The League Cup second round gets underway this week with Everton welcoming Salford City to Goodison Park on Wednesday night (8:15pm kick-off).
The Toffees reached the quarter-finals last season and will have aspirations of going even further this time around, with serial winner Carlo Ancelotti no doubt eyeing up silverware to truly leave his mark on Merseyside.
His side kicked off the new Premier League campaign in emphatic style, seeing off Tottenham 1-0 in the capital, with his three new midfield signings slotting in harmoniously to his new-look XI and giving Evertonians a real sense of optimism for the season ahead.
The Italian coach is accustomed to glittering European nights and pitting his wits against continental giants, so the prospect of Salford presents a different challenge for the elite tactician to say the least.
Part owned by Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and David Beckham, the League Two club will be relishing the chance to take on Premier League opposition and will hope to cause an early-round upset.
Uefa Europa Conference League
As from this season the winners of the League Cup will not qualify for the Europa League — as in previous campaigns — but will enter the play-off phase for the Uefa Europa Conference League (UECL), the new European competition starting from 2021/22.
The third-tier continental tournament was announced in December 2018 and gets underway next season. However, this does not mean the number of teams qualifying for the Champions League or the Europa League will be affected. There will still be four English clubs in the Champions League and two in the Europa League.
If the League Cup winners qualify for European competition by their standing in the league, then the team who finished sixth in the Premier League (or seventh if the FA Cup is won by a top-six club) will enter the UECL play-offs.
The Europa Conference League will be played on a Thursday night alongside the Europa League and will consist of 32 teams in the group stages. The premise is to allow teams from smaller European leagues to compete in continental football alongside some of the bigger nations.
For Everton this may well present the perfect opportunity to prioritise a competition like the League Cup. The Toffees have not lifted silverware since their FA Cup win in 1995, so the prospect of a domestic cup run with the opportunity to mark a return to Europe could be a tantalising one for Ancelotti as he weighs up his priorities this term.
Everton & Salford City’s previous line-ups:
- Everton (vs Tottenham): Pickford; Coleman, Mina, Keane, Digne; Allan, Doucoure, Gomes; Rodriguez, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin.
- Salford City (vs Exeter City): Hladky; Threlkeld, Eastham, Clarke, Touray; Lowe, Gibson, Hunter; Armstrong, Andrade, Henderson.
Fabian Delph, Mason Holgate, Cenk Tosun and Jean-Philippe Gbamin all remain sidelined for Everton. Ancelotti may be tempted to play around with his side following the win over Spurs, with players like Jonjoe Kenny, Tom Davies and Moise Kean in line to make the starting XI.
Players to watch:
- Everton: If Ancelotti does indeed tinker with his side, this could be the perfect opportunity for the Italian to get a closer look at academy graduate Jonjoe Kenny. The adventurous right-back shone during an audacious loan move to Schalke last season and will be desperate to fight his way into first-team plans at Goodison Park. Standing in his way, though, is club captain Seamus Coleman, but if Kenny can impress when handed the opportunity, he will be putting considerable pressure on his 31-year-old right-back counterpart.
- Salford City: In a game of such magnitude for Salford, the club will need cool and composed heads to settle the nerves and handle the big occasion. In Darron Gibson, manager Graham Alexander has a player who not only packs a wealth of experience and top-flight ability, but also someone who knows the opposition very well. The former Manchester United midfielder plied his trade for Everton across a five year spell between 2012 and 2017. Admittedly times have changed quite drastically since the Irishman left Goodison Park, but a few of his old teammates have stuck around and could get a run out later this week. Gibson will be chomping at the bit to get stuck in and prove his worth at his old stomping ground.