With the English football season firmly underway, and the table starting to take shape across the third and fourth tiers, anticipation is building for the return of the Papa John’s Trophy, known officially as the EFL Trophy. The knockout competition allows teams lower down the pyramid to get their chance of playing at Wembley, as the initial rounds of the EFL Cup can often put a spanner in the works for a side that draw one of the Premier League sides before they can gather any momentum.
Last year saw the return of a full crowd in the capital for the final, with Rotherham United lifting the trophy after beating Sutton United 4–2 after extra time. Over 30,000 were present for the showpiece event, and it was great to see players bask in the adulation of their fans properly for the first time since the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
As always, 64 sides start the tournament, with a group stage featuring sides from League One and Two as well as some Premier League academy sides, allowing the next wave of talent to gain some experience playing competitive men’s football, with all of these games away from home. It’s a long road to Wembley, and a good run of form often defines who picks up silverware come April. Read on, as we look at a few of the favourites in this year’s competition.
It’s been a strange few months for Derby County. Wayne Rooney’s departure has meant Liam Rosenior, serving as interim boss, had less time than expected to prepare for the upcoming season. Nonetheless, the Rams kept a lot of the squad that was relegated from the Championship and despite a shaky start to life in the third tier, they’re still very much one of the favourites for automatic promotion. Follow the predictz English Football League 1 predictions here and you’ll see Derby are expected to compete on all fronts, with their significant squad depth making it possible for them to balance tournament football and league responsibility. They face Grimsby, Mansfield Town and Manchester City’s academy in a group they’ll be expected to top.
No strangers to cup competition, had it not been for the fact they had been drawn against Liverpool in the FA Cup last season, Shrewsbury Town could have had a season to remember. Salop actually took the lead in the third-round tie at Anfield, but the quality of Jürgen Klopp’s side showed in the end — something Shrewsbury won’t have to face in the EFL Trophy. Their group consists of League One new boys Port Vale as well as Stockport and Wolverhampton Wanderers academy, and you’d think that Steve Cotterill’s tournament experience will show, especially at Montgomery Waters Meadow.
Manchester United academy
Having won last year’s FA Youth Cup after beating Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford, there is an abundance of quality in Manchester United’s academy, and they look like having the best chance of becoming the first academy side to win the EFL Trophy since Premier League youth sides were introduced in the 2016-17 season. While a lot of the away games boil down to physicality, this United team, whoever is selected, looks as though they can deal with it, and their abundance of technical ability should prove a handful for Barrow, Carlisle and Fleetwood Town in Group G. Look out for the likes of Alejandro Garnacho and skipper Rhys Bennett, should they not already have been called up to Erik ten Hag’s first team at some point this season.