Scottish League Cup Will Have To Adapt To Survive An Increasingly Euro-Focused Calendar

The volume of European fixtures from 2024 will require a scheduling rejig
08:35, 09 Jul 2022

With the Glasgow Fair fortnight seven days away, Wimbledon and the women’s Euros are currently dominating the sporting agenda – yet as many are still contemplating holiday destinations, the new Scottish football season is preparing to return.

Elongated pre-seasons have become a thing of the past north of the border. Six years ago, the Premier Sports Cup was tweaked to rejuvenate a maligned competition, and the introduction of a first-round group stage - which begins in early July - has refreshed a stale and tired format.

The League Cup group stage does not include extra-time, with drawn matches going straight to a penalty shootout and the victors earning a bonus point. It is an innovative move that makes the tournament unique, and it is not often Scottish football can be credited for creative thinking.

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The current format fills a void for television viewers seeking a football fix during a rare quiet month, and supporters would rather watch competitive action than kickabouts masquerading as friendlies. The clubs flying the flag in European competition benefit from a first-round bye, ensuring the usual title contenders are present for the latter stages.

For Aberdeen and Hibernian though, clubs that expect to embark on a European tour every year, entering the first round stage of the League Cup is a sobering reminder of last season’s underachievement. This weekend the Dons travel to Peterhead while the Hibees welcome Clyde to the capital.

UEFA recently announced significant changes to the Champions League and Europa League that will apply from 2024 onwards. The number of group games in both competitions will increase from six to eight, adding further fixture congestion to an already bulging calendar.

The Premier Sports Cup is done and dusted before Christmas in non-winter World Cup years. The quick-fire nature of the competition is part of the tournament’s charm, a throwback to how it used to be, but the volume of European fixtures from 2024 will require a scheduling rejig.

Saturday's Scottish League Cup Fixtures

UEFA does not champion secondary domestic cup competitions, and the decision-makers in Nyon will hardly be concerned by the looming fixture headache facing the SPFL. The format change is a considerable shift towards even greater continental integration, and the direction of travel is clear.

Although the increase in European fixtures will lead to scheduling issues, Scottish clubs will embrace the prospect of more European action. The latest UEFA alterations, shaped by their never-ending urge to gratify the demands of the richest leagues, will still lead to more finance for smaller nations.

France abolished the Coupe de la Ligue two years ago after failing to secure a television deal - a competition with a 26-year history unceremoniously dumped under the pretence that it may one day return. Although the French League Cup was a relatively modern creation, the Scottish equivalent has enriched the domestic game since the end of the Second World War.

Unlike the Coupe de la Ligue, the Premier Sports Cup remains a respected and cherished honour, in sharp contrast to the perception of the English equivalent. The future of the EFL Cup will almost certainly become a discussion point once the demands of the new European format become a reality - and it will likely lead to significant change.

The Premier Sports Cup, the first leg of a potential domestic treble, launches another 11-month Scottish season this weekend. The upcoming UEFA changes will impact the scheduling of the competition, and while fixture congestion can be overcome, there is limited scope for wriggle room moving forward.

The immediate future of the Premier Sports Cup is not in doubt, but the tournament will have to adapt to survive in an increasingly Euro-focused football calendar.

Scottish League Cup outright's from Betfred*

*18+ | BeGambleAware

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