Commentating on Manchester City vs Newcastle last week, Sue Smith spoke about the impact of Newcastle’s loss in the League Cup final. To paraphrase - she suggested that the League Cup losers league performance can suffer after a final defeat. I suppose the folk theory goes that losing in a final carries debilitating psychological effects that spill over into the league. What tweaked my interest was that she used the term ‘statistically’ when discussing this.
For non-football fans the League Cup final occurs mid-season in the English football calendar, usually taking place about round 25-27 (late February to mid-March) of the League tournaments. This cup competition runs parallel to the League and the other major cup competition, the FA Cup.
So do the negative effects of a League Cup final loss during the mid-season spill over into the League? The basic stats would suggest not.
From 1992/1993 up to 2021/2022 there has been 24 League Cup finals where the loser was a Premier League team – looking at the points per match accumulated before and after the final, this has actually increased 13 times and only decreased 11 times. So, more losing finalists actually have a greater points per game ratio after a league cup final defeat.
Of course, there have been some catastrophic collapses after a League Cup final loss – Leeds 1995/96 season being the most obvious. Arsenal's decline in form after losing to Birmingham in 2011 is another memorable example. Maybe these salient memories are the basis of the intuition? Usually, any dip in form - if there is one - is minor; Tottenham were beaten finalists in 2015 – they recorded 1.69 points before the final and 1.67 afterwards. The same minor difference was observed in 2017 (Southampton), 2018 (Arsenal) and 2020 (Aston Villa).
Perhaps this is another one for the football myths list!