For the second time in a row, Scotland's second-most prestigious competition begins with a group phase as 43 teams set out to take Celtic's crown
Scottish football makes its early return on Friday as the 2017-18 League Cup commences.
The first round kicks off with the Ayrshire Derby at Somerset Park on July 14, with Ayr United hosting Kilmarnock in their Group E tie. The remaining 15 games of the first matchday take place on Saturday.
In their battle to hold onto their title, current holders Celtic have to compete with the other 41 teams in the Scottish Professional Football League and the champions of the Highland and Lowland Football Leagues – Buckie Thistle and East Kilbride respectively – in the nation’s second most prestigious cup competition.
Just like last season, the League Cup begins with a group stage. Although that had been the format until 1984, its most recent format had been single elimination rounds.
The four Scottish sides competing in UEFA competition miss out on the group stage and join at the second round. This year, Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and St Johnstone are all given byes to the last 16.
The groups are drawn based on the clubs’ regions, with two seeded teams in each pool and three unseeded. During the group phase, teams will be given the chance to earn an extra point if they draw a match by competing in a penalty shootout.
After four matchdays, the group winners and four best runners-up will progress to the second round, where it becomes a knockout competition and draws are decided by extra-time and penalties.
It is a short-lived competition. The first round will finish on July 30 and it will all be wrapped up on November 26 in the final at Hampden Park.
Group C is the most eye-catching, as it brings an early high-profile derby as Premiership side Dundee take on Dundee United, who were recently relegated to the Championship. They also face Highland League side Buckie Thistle as well as Raith Rovers from League One and Cowdenbeath from the fourth tier
Group D is interesting too, with two Scottish Premiership sides in Hibernian and Ross County drawn together, while League One sides Alloa and Arbroath and Montrose from League Two are also present.
East Kilbride, meanwhile, also face a top-tier team in Hamilton as well as Queeen of the South (Championship), Albion Rovers (League One) and Stenhousemuir (League Two) in Group G.
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Brechin City||Dunfermline Athletic||Buckie Thistle||Alloa Athletic|
|Forfar Athletic||Elgin City||Dundee||Hibernian|
|Inverness CT||Hearts||Dundee United||Montrose|
|Stirling Albion||Peterhead||Raith Rovers||Ross County|
|Group E||Group F||Group G||Group H|
|Annan Athletic||Berwick Rangers||Albion Rovers||Airdrieonians|
|Ayr United||Edinburgh City||East Kilbride||Livingston|
|Clyde||Greenock Morton||Hamilton Academical||Partick Thistle|
|Dumbarton||Motherwell||Queen of the South||St Mirren|
In the UK, 13 games of the competition will be shown on BT Sport, with six of the group stage being broadcast. Those games have already been decided, starting with the Ayrshire Derby and ending with the Dundee Derby at the end of July.
|Jul 14||Ayr United vs Kilmarnock||19:45||BT Sport|
|Jul 15||Queens Park vs Motherwell||15:00||BT Sport|
|Jul 21||Ross County vs Hibernian||19:45||BT Sport|
|Jul 22||Partick Thistle vs St Mirren||15:00||BT Sport|
|Jul 29||Hearts vs Dunfermline||15:00||BT Sport|
|Jul 30||Dundee vs Dundee United||15:00||BT Sport|
Celtic are the current champions, having beaten Aberdeen 3-0 in the final at Hampden Park last season. Goals from Tom Rogic, James Forrest and star man Moussa Dembele saw Brendan Rodgers' men seal their first trophy in a domestic treble.
It was the second time in three years the Bhoys have won it and 16th overall, but Glasgow rivals Rangers have won it more, having lifted it 27 times. Aberdeen have held it six times, while Edinburgh club Hearts have won four League Cups. Dundee, East Fife and Hibs have three titles apiece, Dundee United have two. Kilmarnock, Livingston, Motherwell, Partick Thistle, Raith Rovers, Ross County and St Mirren have all won it once.
The 52,000 capacity national stadium Hampden Park will play host to the semi-finals (October 21 and 22) and final (November 26). It is a stadium with a rich history, attracting a world record attendance of 149,415 for a game between Scotland and England, though tens of thousands more were said to have entered without tickets.
While the famous Hampden Roar is seldom heard now, it has witnessed some iconic moments, including the 1960 European Cup Final in which Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in front of 127,000 fans. More recently, Zinedine Zidane scored his iconic goal against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League final and Leigh Griffiths scored two sublime free-kicks in a thrilling end to the 2-2 draw with England this year.
The final is a prestigious event, but Hampden will be used in the competition well before then, as amateur side Queen's Park play their home games there. Hampden's first taste of League Cup action, then, will be between them and fellow League Two side Edinburgh City on July 22.
After Scotland host Malta (Septbember 4) and Slovakia (October 5) in their World Cup qualifiers, it will be dormant until the League Cup returns.
Next, the stadium will see three days of Ed Sheeran in June 2018. He joins a long list of musicians to have played there, most recently the Stone Roses, Bruce Springsteen, Rihanna, Beyonce and AC/DC.