Everton’s half-hearted approach to this competition has baffled the supporters in recent years given it’s only one of two trophies we can realistically win.
Throughout the 90s it was lower division sides who would humiliate Everton in the early rounds. Since the turn of the Millennium it has been Premier League clubs who have dumped them out of the competition.
On the face of it that seems respectable enough - but more often than not Everton have been found guilty of fielding understrength sides and tossing winnable games away.
Mitigation lies in those campaigns where Europe has been a distraction, but more often than not their focus has purely been on domestic matters. Which makes their continued failures all the more frustrating.
Let’s get real here; Everton are good enough to have a real go at the competition, but they also are nowhere near good enough to do so fielding their reserves in the early rounds.
Southampton arrived at Goodison without a win in three games having lost their last two without scoring. They also haven’t won at Goodison for more than 20 years and were beaten on the same ground just six weeks ago. Throw in the fact Mark Hughes also made changes and it represented a marvellous opportunity to progress to the next round.
I’m not arrogant enough to assume a strong side would have definitely beaten the Saints, but I’m confident that had Marco Silva kept his changes to a minimum then Everton would have had a great chance of progressing. Instead seven changes completely disrupted the rhythm of the side and highlighted the paucity of options at his disposal. It also sends out a message to the players that this is a game that doesn’t mean as much as the league.
Silva defended his selection by pointing out, with some justification, that the likes of Cenk Tosun and Morgan Schneiderlin have been regulars this season, while the two players making their first starts of the campaign - Bernard and Ademola Lookman - impressed.
But it’s not necessarily the personnel that’s the problem, it’s the disruption all those changes made to the side. It’s no surprise that the team put in a disjointed performance.
Just three days earlier Everton looked to have finally kick-started their season with a decent win over Fulham. With a tricky trip to Leicester to come before the international break on Saturday, the Southampton game was the perfect opportunity to carry on where they left off against the Cottagers and take some real momentum to the King Power Stadium. Instead, the defeat has tossed all that away and has piled pressure on the players to get a result this weekend.
Why does Jordan Pickford and Gylfi Sigurdsson need a rest in September? Why was Richarlison rested when he has only just returned from a three-game suspension?
The benefit Pickford and Sigurdsson have gained from their midweek rest is far outweighed by the cost of exiting the competition. When a team is winning games they want to play all the time, especially when we are not even 10 games into the season. I’m not even sure there’s that much benefit in fielding squad players to ‘keep them happy’. After all, know we are out that means fewer games in the schedule so less chance of them playing again later in the season.
So what was Silva’s thinking? The Portuguese had hinted that he would keep changes to a minimum in order gives us the best chance of progression but instead changed two thirds of his team. Did he underestimate Southampton? Did he misjudge the strength of his squad? Is he not that bothered about the EFL Cup? Or has been told by the board that it isn’t a priority?
To be honest none of those suggestions leave Silva coming up smelling of roses. We all understand the need to be patient and he continues to have the fans full backing but he deserves to be criticised for this.
What makes it so frustrating for the fans is that we have seen this before and thought Silva had been warned against it. He surely knows how desperate the supporters are for a trophy and how long it has been since that FA Cup win in 1995. He is also surely aware of how Everton have been dumped out of this competition before. Just look at what happened against Norwich two years ago. Everton had won five and drawn one of their opening six games before a weakened side was beaten 2-0 by the Canaries. The Toffees would then go on win just one of their next 11 games, losing six.
I simply cannot see how resting so many players will benefit the team in the league at this early stage of the season. They are more than capable of playing three games in a week.
It would also do wonders for his long-term job prospects. Ask most fans what they would prefer: winning in the cup or at Leicester, I’m sure the majority would go for the cup. And if Everton did triumph at Wembley Silva would become an instant hero and would remain in good favour with the fans for years to come even if league form became patchy.
We remain a team in transition and Silva has a job on his hands to fashion a side in his own image using players brought in by four different managers. That inevitably hinders consistency so a challenge for a top six place always looked a tough ask this year. But we still have talented players who on our day can beat anyone, which is the very essence of why cup competitions can be so exciting.
The fans couldn’t have made it clearer how desperate they are for a trophy, hell even a cup run. And all the noises stemming from the manager and board suggested they were listening.
Last night’s debacle suggests otherwise and has understandably left the fanbase feeling despondent. Evertonians are not entitled and accept losing is part of the game. But after so many years of disappointment and broken promises the fans are tired of picking themselves up year after year only to be let down again.