English League Cup: 5 things we learned from the third round

Jamie McDonald

In which Scottish Premier League success translates into success for an English club and Arsene's kids give us reason to believe in them again.

The League Cup is somewhere between the second- and fourth-most important competition to each team in the Premier League, depending on whether they're in Europe and on whether they're in a serious title/relegation race. As a result, a lot of teams use it as an opportunity to rotate players or try new things. That's good, because it means there are things to be learned.

There were more than five things to be learned from the round, but I put a bunch of arbitrary integers into a hat and picked one to determine how many items long this list would be. Five is what I picked, so five is the number of things I'm going to talk about learning.

Everything's not a dumpster fire at Fulham

Fulham are probably going to be in the bottom half and close to a relegation scrap for most of the season, but their comeback on Tuesday was promising. The Cottagers went down in the 11th minute against Everton and were lucky to get to the halftime break down just one goal, but they surged in the second half. Dimitar Berbatov turned in a goal of the scrappy, fighting variety to level the game before Darren Bent scored off a cheeky short set piece routine just two minutes after he entered the game.

Martin Jol is still very much on the hot seat between the team's poor results in their last four league games and the new ownership at Fulham, but this game showed that there's some hope for them.

Liverpool could be a lot of fun this season

Yes, Liverpool lost, but the reason they lost isn't something that's likely to repeat itself. Both Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge played poorly while Manchester United defenders Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans turned in their best performances of the season thus far. In every other area of the pitch, Liverpool were dominant throughout the first half. Lucas Leiva looked a lot like pre-injury Lucas, Steven Gerrard looked like he's embraced his new deeper role and wingbacks Jordan Henderson and Jose Enrique were Liverpool's most dangerous players.

Liverpool might not have the players to challenge Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal for fourth place yet, but they're getting there. And even if they don't mount a serious challenge, they're going to entertain trying. Even though their strikers didn't have a finishing touch, the team as a whole was a whole lot of fun.

Gary Hooper's coming

Norwich are hovering just above the relegation places, mostly thanks to a lack of goals. Thus far, marquee signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel has just one goal while Johan Elmander has failed to score and Luciano Becchio hasn't even seen the field. Enter former Celtic man and Scottish Premier League leading scorer Gary Hooper, who made his first start for the club in an extra time win over Watford on Tuesday.

With Norwich down 2-1, Hooper made a near post run on a cross by Nathan Redmond and directed an impressive header to the back post to score a 95th minute equalizer and force extra time. He found the winner in a completely different fashion, getting in behind the defense on a through ball and scoring a one-on-one through Watford keeper Johnathan Bond's legs.

With a fully fit Hooper, Norwich are going to have some incredible depth at striker for a team of their fairly limited financial means. If he can come close at all to replicating his form with Celtic, the Canaries won't be anywhere near the drop zone for most of this season.

Tottenham's depth is outrageous

Instead of replacing Gareth Bale with one or two stars, Tottenham Hotspur opted to bulk up in depth. They sold or loaned out four first team regulars from last season, but bought seven players and got Danny Rose back from a loan to Sunderland. The addition of four more players with extensive professional experience is making a big difference for Andre Villas-Boas, who can now pick a completely rotated team in cup competitions and Europa League without his boys missing a beat.

Despite making eight changes from the team that beat Cardiff on the weekend, Spurs had no problem laying a 4-0 beating on Aston Villa at Villa Park. While the Villains also picked a heavily rotated squad, no solid Premier League team's second unit should be catching that bad of a beating at home against another Premier League team's second unit. Lewis Holtby and Jermain Defoe -- two of the team's clear backups -- were Spurs' two best players on the night.

Last season, Spurs' downfall was their inability to deal with injuries. They never figured out how to deal with the loss of Sandro and they were completely baffled about how to attack for the games that Bale missed. Now, they look like they're unlikely to miss a beat when any player (or handful of players) goes down.

Arsene's kids are back

Remember when Arsene Wenger used to play a bunch of kids who no one outside of Arsenal fans had ever heard of in the cups, then make deep cup runs anyway? He appears to be back at it. There was a bit of a gap between the likes of Henri Lansbury, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Justin Hoyte departing and a new large class of youngsters getting their shot at the Emirates, but they've finally arrived.

There have been a smattering of solid young talents here and there for the Gunners between classes of kids, but this is the first time in a long time that Wenger has rested the vast majority of his senior players and mixed in a team full of kids with reserves and players trying to get back to full fitness after injuries. They needed penalties to dispatch of West Brom, but it's impressive that a team full of reserves was able to advance at The Hawthorns against what was mostly West Brom's first team.

Most of the young players that Wenger fielded on Wednesday won't ever become starters for Arsenal, but it's great that he's giving them a chance to play their way into the first team. Worst case scenario, he's making the Championship and lower-tier Premier League sides better by getting these guys run-outs in real games before they move on from Arsenal.


Sunderland 2-0 Peterborough
West Ham 3-2 Cardiff
Manchester City 5-0 Wigan
Burnley 2-1 Nottingham Forest
Southampton 2-0 Bristol City
Swindon 0-2 Chelsea
Watford 2-3 Norwich (AET)
Aston Villa 0-4 Tottenham Hotspur
Hull 1-0 Huddersfield
Leicester 2-1 Derby County
Fulham 2-1 Everton
Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool
Newcastle 2-0 Leeds
Tranmere 0-2 Stoke
Birmingham City 3-1 Swansea
West Brom 1-1 (3-4 penalties) Arsenal

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