Sport

EFL CUP

Future looking brighter at Man United as Ten Hag delivers silverware

Future looking brighter at Man United as Ten Hag delivers silverware
Harry Maguire of Manchester United celebrates with the trophy among his team mates after their EFL Cup Final match against Newcastle United at Wembley Stadium on 26 February, 2023 in London, England. (Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Manchester United’s near six-year trophy drought was almost overlooked in the build-up to the League Cup final as Newcastle United’s wait for major silverware spanned nearly seven decades.

A clinical 2-0 victory at Wembley got the Old Trafford trophy cabinet door swinging open again though and, perhaps more importantly, gave a glimpse of greater things to come under astute Dutch manager Erik ten Hag.

The former Ajax Amsterdam boss arrived at Old Trafford with the club in a state of some turmoil on and off the pitch after finishing in sixth place in the Premier League last season.

But while there is little he can do about the future ownership of the 20-time English champions, which the American Glazer family have expressed a wish to sell, on the pitch he is shaping a team that looks capable of reviving the glory days.

A season that began under a Cristiano Ronaldo-shaped cloud has been transformed since the Portuguese talisman was finally shown the door after a toxic fall-out.

Ten Hag has quietly gone about his business, moulding an intelligent team that works tirelessly and is beginning to make winning a habit. A sixth League Cup triumph ended the club’s longest wait for a trophy since 1983.

Manchester United Erik Ten Hag

Manager of Manchester United Erik Ten Hag lifts the EFL Cup trophy following the Cup Final match against Newcastle United at Wembley Stadium on 26 February, 2023 in London, England. (Photo: James Baylis – AMA/Getty Images)

And the season could still get better. They are in the fifth round of the FA Cup, the last 16 of the Europa League after knocking out Barcelona in midweek and in third place in the Premier League and not out of the title race.

Ten Hag experienced some difficult early days. A 4-0 hammering at Brentford in August had some predicting he might be out before the leaves fell off the trees and then there was a humiliating 6-3 defeat at Manchester City.

Since that drubbing at The Etihad in early October, United have lost only twice in all competitions, forward Marcus Rashford has turned into a world-beater and the signing of midfielder Casemiro has looked like a stroke of genius.

A defence built around the terrier-like Lisandro Martinez and the cultured Raphael Varane snuffed out Newcastle on Sunday, winger Antony is becoming a fan favourite and even old-fashioned centre forward Wout Weghorst, a puzzling signing at the time, looks as though he would run through brick walls for Ten Hag.

It is not so much about individuals though. For Ten Hag the key is having every player pulling in the same direction.

“Winning a trophy shows that its worth to suffer and sacrifice to give every day your best,” he told reporters. “If you want to prove something you have to win something.

“This shows we are on a good pathway and it’s going in the right direction. We will be happy for 24 hours but we will not be satisfied because satisfaction leads to laziness.”

Ten Hag said the confidence of Sunday’s win could be a key for the rest of the season.


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“I hope this is a big inspiration, but you can’t look too far ahead,” he said.

“It’s a big win this, and we are really happy tonight. Winning breeds confidence as long as you don’t go over the top and keep doing the right things.”

Clinical

United’s performance was clinical against a strong Newcastle, ending the latter’s hopes of claiming a first domestic trophy for nearly 70 years.

A header by Casemiro followed by an own goal by Sven Botman late in the first half silenced the hordes of Newcastle fans who flocked to the capital full of optimism as Manchester United went on to lift the trophy for a sixth time with relative ease.

Much of the build-up was about Newcastle’s first appearance in a major final since 1999 and an uptick in their fortunes instigated by Eddie Howe since a 2021 Saudi Arabia-led takeover.

But United were too good on the day.

“It has been an amazing period, first trophy of the season but we want more it is not enough for this club, we want more and we need more because our standards demand more,” Bruno Fernandes, who was denied a third goal in stoppage time, said.

“For me, it was about winning trophies and finally we did it. I am satisfied but I want more. I want much more.”

There was little between the sides in a scrappy first half, but the English season’’s first silverware was effectively decided in the space of six minutes towards halftime.

Newcastle were stunned when Brazilian Casemiro met a superb Luke Shaw free kick in the 33rd minute to head past Loris Karius, the goal allowed to stand after a VAR check for offside.

Six minutes later Newcastle were left totally deflated when the in-form Marcus Rashford was played in down the left and his shot deflected over a helpless Karius for what initially appeared to be his 17th goal since the World Cup.

However, it was credited to the unfortunate Botman.

Kicking towards their fans in the second half Newcastle roused themselves into action and pinned a leggy-looking United back at times but they rarely looked like scoring.

Newcastle’s fans, who had created a sea of black and white with give-away plastic flags at the stadium’s west side during the closing minutes, drifted away before the presentation.

The Tyneside club has now lost each of their last nine matches at Wembley, a run that began in the 1974 FA Cup final.

Instead, the stage was left for United whose fans were in full voice as Bruno Fernandes raised the trophy which they hope will be the first of many under Ten Hag. 

They had far more goal threat and Weghorst fluffed a chance when he shot tamely at Karius, Newcastle’s third-choice who performed admirably in what was his first competitive match for any club since 2021.

Newcastle were full of energy early on with Allan Saint-Maximin dangerous whenever he got the ball.

But Newcastle’s lack of goals in recent months was evident as they huffed and puffed.

Joelinton headed one chance over and Dan Burn’s header whistled wide on the stroke of halftime but by that stage the writing was on the wall for a familiar tale of woe.

“No complaints with how we played, obviously the scoreline doesn’t say that, and that’s where football can be cruel,” Newcastle manager Howe said.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t deliver for the fans today.” Reuters/DM

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