Cups a poor measure of quality

Quevilly, an amateur team, take on Lyon on Saturday in the French Cup final. Cardiff were in the Carling Cup final a year after Birmingham won it and went down. And this season could end with two trophies for Liverpool despite languishing with the likes of Norwich in mid table.

So do cups even matter? Chelsea’s run to the final of the Champions League is quite similar to that of Arsenal in 2006, when they got further than they had previously or have since, as they struggled to finish in the top four. That was Arsenal’s worst team of the Arsene Wenger era in many ways. So do cups matter? Portsmouth have won more than Arsenal in recent years, yet no sane observer would suggest they’d rather be in the position of the South Coast side.

It seems to mean that actually, cups do not matter. Liverpool have raised a very interesting issue this year. Would you rather be competitive in Europe or win two domestic trophies? It should be quite obvious from their struggles that being in Europe is better. The cups mean relatively little. Indeed cup runs are down more to luck than leagues. The luck of the draw can help, home draws, easy draws. And then one bad match and you can go out. If you can ride your luck, as Chelsea have done in the Champions League, you can reach the final. Chelsea were outplayed by Napoli, Benfica and Barcelona, yet still reached the final. It is counter intuitive.

But that is the nature of a cup competition – it is by its definition counter intuitive. It is down to fortune, it gives teams who would not ordinarily have a chance to win trophies that opportunity. Marseille recently won the French League Cup despite a disastrous run of form which raised questions about them. This was a team enduring a miserable spell – indeed they still are. Since February they have won just one match, against Lyon in that cup final, whilst one of the defeats was a 2-1 loss to Inter which felt like a win as they progressed in the Champions League.

It is quite clearly not a good measure of quality, a cup, if it throws up results like this. It seems that cups are a saving grace, a consolation prize amid gloom, that keeps interest in the season alive even when a league campaign has gone awry. Of course they are worthwhile, but we should question their worthiness as a measure of quality. If Chelsea can reach a Champions League final with 10 men against Barcelona, and Liverpool can win two trophies whilst barely out performing West Brom, and Marseille can lift a trophy during an abysmal run of form – then they can’t mean that much.