The League Cup, also known as the EFL Cup for sponsorship reasons, is an annual football competition in England. As one of the country’s major domestic cup competitions, along with the FA Cup, it is an important part of the English football calendar. But how many rounds make up the League Cup tournament? Let’s take a closer look.
The League Cup begins with the Extra Preliminary Round, which is contested by the lowest ranked clubs. This round sees teams from the ninth and tenth tiers of the English football pyramid enter the competition. The Extra Preliminary Round helps to whittle down the number of teams so that the Preliminary Round can feature 64 clubs.
The Preliminary Round consists of teams from League Two and League One – the fourth and third tiers of English football – entering the tournament. With the addition of 48 teams from Leagues One and Two, the total number of teams in the Preliminary Round is 112. Matches are played on a one-off basis with the winners progressing to the First Round.
The First Round sees League One and League Two teams who were not involved in the Preliminary Round enter the competition, as well as selected byes from the Preliminary Round. This brings the total number of teams in the First Round up to 70.
Premier League and Championship teams enter the League Cup at the Second Round stage, so the First Round consists entirely of League One and League Two teams. As with the Preliminary Round, matches are played as one-off ties, with 35 winners proceeding to the Second Round.
The Second Round sees top flight teams enter the fray, as all Premier League clubs play their first match in the League Cup at this stage. Additionally, Championship teams enter the competition in the Second Round.
Along with the 35 winners from the First Round, this brings the total number of teams in the Second Round up to 70. Premier League clubs that are involved in European competitions receive a bye to the Third Round. Matches are played on a one-off basis, with 35 teams progressing.
The Third Round consists of the 35 winners from the Second Round along with the 7 Premier League teams that received byes from the Second Round due to European commitments. This brings the total number of teams at this stage to 42.
The Third Round sees more Premier League and Championship clubs enter the competition. Matches are played on a one-off basis, with 21 teams progressing to the Fourth Round.
21 teams contest the Fourth Round, made up of the 21 winners from the Third Round. No new teams enter at this stage. Matches are played on a one-off basis, with the 11 winning teams advancing to the Fifth Round.
The 11 winners from the Fourth Round make up the teams contesting the Fifth Round. As with the previous round, no new teams enter at this stage. Matches remain one-off ties, with 6 teams progressing to the quarter-finals after securing victory.
The Sixth Round is the quarter-final stage, with 6 teams battling it out at this penultimate hurdle. The 4 winners secure progression to the semi-finals.
Just 4 teams remain at the semi-final stage, contesting two legs in a home and away format. The semi-finals are held over two legs, unlike earlier rounds which were one-off matches. This round helps determine the two teams that will contest the final.
The final round of the competition is a one-off match held at Wembley Stadium in London. It is played one month after the semi-finals. The victor lifts the EFL Cup trophy, earning a place in Europe and a morale boost ahead of the season run-in.
In total, there are 8 rounds in the EFL Cup:
- Extra Preliminary Round
- Preliminary Round
- First Round
- Second Round
- Third Round
- Fourth Round
So in summary, the League Cup consists of two qualifying rounds, followed by five knockout rounds, semi-finals played over two legs and a final – totalling 8 rounds. The detailed breakdown of the teams entering at each stage demonstrates how the rounds steadily whittle down the participants until just two teams remain to contest the showpiece final.
History and Context
Having covered the basic facts about how many rounds are in the modern day League Cup, it is worth providing some historical context around the competition’s origins and format evolution over time.
The League Cup began in the 1960-61 season as a mid-week cup tournament intended to provide fixtures for First Division clubs not competing in European competition. The inaugural League Cup featured both two-legged ties and single matches through the rounds.
In 1967, the League Cup final moved to Wembley Stadium, where it has remained ever since. There have been multiple format changes during the tournament’s history, such as in 1981 when the competition was expanded to include Third and Fourth Division clubs for the first time.
The tournament has always consisted of a combination of single elimination rounds and two-legged semi-finals leading up to the final. The number of teams entering at each stage has fluctuated based on the addition and removal of qualifying rounds.
Other reforms over the years have included the introduction of extra time and penalties to decide drawn matches from 1990-91 onwards, and permitting tournament sponsors to attach branding to its name from 1981 onwards.
The EFL Cup maintains a rich history and significance in the English game, despite its format changes. Its longevity and status as England’s second major cup ensure its importance as a meaningful piece of domestic silverware.
Comparison to Other Major Cup Competitions
To provide additional context, it is worth comparing the number of rounds in the EFL Cup compared to other major domestic cup competitions in England:
|FA Community Shield
As shown in the above table, the League Cup consists of the most rounds among England’s three major men’s domestic cup tournaments.
The FA Cup remains the oldest and most prestigious knockout competition in English football. But it contains only six rounds proper, plus preliminary qualifying rounds, compared to the eight found in the EFL Cup.
The FA Community Shield is a curtain raiser played between the winners of the previous season’s Premier League and FA Cup. It is considered a “super cup” rather than a competitive cup tournament due to consisting of just a single match.
So in terms of numbers of rounds, the EFL Cup stands out for its higher volume of fixtures, contributing to fixture congestion in the English game. Yet this extensive format allows clubs of all levels to gain experience and the chance for glory.
In conclusion, there are 8 rounds that make up the League Cup tournament. This consists of two qualifying rounds, followed by five single elimination rounds, two-legged semi-finals and a final at Wembley Stadium.
While the format has evolved over the competition’s 60+ year history, it has consistently incorporated a similar multi-round knockout structure intended to produce exciting cup ties. When compared to England’s other major domestic cups, the EFL Cup stands out for containing the most rounds.
Its extensive format provides opportunities for giant killings and for lower league clubs to earn lucrative paydays from drawing bigger sides. For the top teams, it represents a chance at early season silverware. The League Cup’s eight round structure contributes to the congested English football calendar but helps maintain the competition’s significance in the domestic game.