EFL Trophy format to be extended with new cup for Category One sides

Peterborough United won the 2023/24 EFL Trophy final at Wembley 

Peterborough United won the 2023/24 EFL Trophy final at Wembley 

The Premier League and National League are finalising plans for a new cup competition that will provide the opportunity for an additional 16 Category One Academies to pit their brightest talents against senior opposition.

The new competition will be based on the existing EFL Trophy format, in which Under-21 teams from the English top flight have been invited to face EFL clubs since 2016. Initially, the U21 teams that are not involved in the EFL Trophy will be invited to the new competition, ruling out the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Instead, it will cater for Category One clubs that are outside of the Premier League (meaning they are not eligible for the EFL Trophy), such as Reading, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Blackburn Rovers and Leeds United. This means that all Category One clubs will now get access to at least one senior competition.

The competition is expected to consist of four groups, with the top two from each advancing to the quarter-finals. Similar to the Premier League International Cup, in which English teams only play against international opposition in the group stage, the Premier League U21 teams will only face National League opposition.

They will play four matches in total, all away from home.

Mina Cup

It is unclear how many of the 24 National League clubs will be involved. However, any initial phase is expected to be regional, to minimise travel and costs, with the Premier League also believed to be heavily subsidising the competition. The new competition will provide extra revenue for National League clubs, while giving Academy players additional access to competition against senior sides.

Former Leeds United Academy Manager Adam Underwood, who is now Head of Football Operations for the Yorkshire club, has previously spoken of the importance of top young players being able to face senior opposition in meaningful matches.

“We are arriving at a juncture where there are questions around the suitability of U21s football for the development of players for the Premier League,” Underwood told TGG last year, adding that there was a need to “work towards ways to give players more exposure to senior football and not just have it in smaller doses across a season.”

The current EFL Trophy ends with a final at Wembley, which may be replicated with the new competition. This comes at a time when the Premier League and National League have been fostering closer ties, including finding a broad agreement over the recent decision to scrap FA Cup replays from the first round this season.

Meanwhile, Premier League clubs remain deadlocked in negotiations on a ‘New Deal’ for EFL funding.

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