Bonus points, strict quotas and the chances of facing Norwich’s U21s – All you need to know about the EFL Trophy ahead of today’s draw
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Ipswich Town are set to play in the EFL Trophy for the first time this season. STUART WATSON looks at the intricacies of this complicated competition ahead of this afternoon’s group stage draw.
What's it called?
The competition began in 1983/84 as the Associate Members' Cup but, in 1992, after lower division clubs became full members of the Football League, it was named the Football League Trophy. In 2016, as part of a rebranding across all competitions, it became the EFL Trophy.
And that's what we must call it this season.
It once bore the name of Autoglass/Auto Windscreens (91-00), LVD Vans (00-05), Johnstone's Paint (06-16) and Checkatrade (16-19), but is now without a sponsor for the first time since 2005/06.
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Who's it for?
All 48 clubs in League One and League Two, plus 16 invitational spots (based on league finishes) for youth teams at Premier League/Championship clubs with Category One academies.
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Liverpool and Manchester United have accepted an invite for the first time, meaning this will be the first time the Premier League's top six clubs will all be represented.
Other academy clubs involved are: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Brighton, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Leicester, Manchester City, Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton, Tottenham, West Ham, Wolves.
This is obviously the first time Ipswich have played in the competition given they have been outside the top two divisions since 1957.
Draw so far...
The 64 clubs are initially split into 16 groups of four. The regionalisation aspect is ostensibly purely on a north/south divide, though the draw - unlike the Carabao Cup - appears to be handpicked in the early stages to ensure there are no great east/west trips (like Town going to Exeter last season).
Perhaps that's why, strangely, only part of the draw was revealed on Tuesday morning.
To give you an idea of how regionalised the groups are, Blackpool, Morecambe and Carlisle have been put together, as have Peterborough, Cambridge United and Northampton.
Ipswich have, unsurprisingly, been put together with Essex neighbours Colchester, as well as Kent outfit Gillingham.
Each group's academy side will be assigned via a draw at lunchtime today (12.30pm, talkSPORT).
Can Ipswich and Norwich meet?
Yes - but not yet.
The EFL takes advice from police regarding the avoidance of 'high profile clashes' in the group stages.
Last season, for that reason, they stopped Newcastle/Sunderland and Southampton/Portsmouth being put together. It's understood that Ipswich/Norwich will be kept apart too.
If both clubs progress through the group stages then the probability of them meeting in the first knockout round becomes 7%. The probability of a second round meeting, should they both make it that far, would increase to 14%.
When Staffordshire rivals Port Vale and Stoke (U21s) met in the competition last December, considerable damage was caused at Vale Park as seats were ripped out, windows smashed and toilets broken. Port Vale won that game 4-0.
Sunderland's first team beat Newcastle's U21s when they faced in the last 16.
You only play each team in your group once. Academy sides play all three of their group games away. Ipswich will, therefore, play one of their games against Colchester and Gillingham at home and the other away.
Two progress from each group. It's three points for a win, one point for a draw, plus a bonus point for the team that wins the penalty shootout which follows every 90 minute stalemate.
North/south regionalisation continues for the first two knock-out rounds, but then anyone can face anyone from the quarter-finals onwards.
Academy sides can request to play knockout matches away from home if drawn as the home side, though St James' Park and Stamford Bridge did host matches last season.
Knockout rounds are all one-off ties which will go straight to penalties if level after 90 minutes. That is until the final, when extra-time is used in the result of a draw.
What players can EFL clubs field?
Four of the 10 outfield starters have to either; a) have started the previous match, b) be in the top 10 players at the club in terms of making the most starting appearances in league and domestic cup competitions that season, c) made 40 or more first team appearances in their career, d) be on loan from a Premier League or EFL club.
This has caused controversy in the recent past, with several clubs fined for failing to field a 'full-strength' team.
Nathan Jones, then in charge of Luton, said in 2016: "The EFL talk about wanting to encourage clubs to play young English talent, but it seems they only want clubs to play young English Premier League talent - not talent that we have here. We have tried to win every single game - we won two out of three games. All the EFL have done at the minute is stunt young talent."
Darrell Clarke, then in charge of Bristol Rovers, fumed: "I don't like anybody telling me what team I can pick."
That backlash has led the EFL to slowly reduce the eligibility quota down from six, to five, to the current number of four.
What players can academy sides name?
Six of the starting XI must be at U21 level (as of June 30 in the preceding season).
Only two players over the age of 21 who have made more than 40 first team appearances.
They can also field players out on loan at National League clubs.
How have academy sides fared?
Since academy sides joined the competition in 2016/17, sparking a #bteamboycott movement from supporters, none have made the final.
Chelsea have gone the furthest, reaching the semis in 2018 before losing on penalties to Lincoln.
When are the games?
Up until the final, always midweek under the lights - almost certainly on Tuesday nights.
The first round of fixtures will take place in the week commencing September 2 - between league games against Shrewsbury (h) and Rochdale (a).
The second round of fixtures will take place in the week commencing October 7 - between league games against Fleetwood (a) and Wycombe (h).
The third round of fixtures will take place in the week commencing November 11 - between the first round of the FA Cup and Oxford United (a).
KO dates are as follows: Round two: w/c Dec 2 (after the FA Cup second round); Round three: w/c Jan 6 (after Fleetwood at home); Quarter-finals: w/c Jan 21 (after Tranmere away); Semi-finals: w/c Feb 17 (after Burton at home); Final: Sunday, April 5 (potential clash with Southend at home).
Back in March, a packed Wembley - more than 85,000 in attendance - watched Portsmouth beat Sunderland on penalties following a 2-2 draw.
It's a different story in the earlier rounds though.
Just 532 people were at the JobServe Community Stadium to watch Colchester take on Southampton's U23s on last September.
Portsmouth are probably the best comparison to Ipswich in terms of average attendances. Kenny Jackett's men were drawing crowds of around 18k for league games, but there were just 2,011 inside Fratton Park for their FL trophy opener against Gillingham and 3,138 for the group game against Tottenham U21s.
A golden chance to get to Wembley and win some silverware or an unwelcome distraction from the league?
Winners Portsmouth and runners-up Sunderland finished fourth and fifth respectively in League One last season. Both lost in the play-offs having played 62 and 61 games respectively in gruelling campaigns.
Lincoln beat Shrewsbury in the 2018 Final. The Imps finished seventh in League Two that season, losing in the play-off semis, while the Shrews ended up third in League One. Paul Hurst's men, just like Sunderland last season, lost twice at Wembley that campaign.
Coventry were relegated from League One the year they won it (16/17).
There have been success stories too though. Barnsley were promoted via the League One play-offs the year they won it (15/16), while Bristol City romped the league when scooping the trophy (14/15).