IT’s the first cup final of the season and the start of the ‘squeaky bum time’ period.
Firstly, credit to Newcastle United who have been transformed under Eddie Howe since he was appointed in November 2021.
They have a genuine chance of finishing in the Champions League places and compete on Sunday in their first cup final since 1999 – which incidentally was against tomorrow’s opponents Manchester United.
Not many finals are entertaining for the neutral, but with contrasting styles, this is unlikely to make extra-time.
United and Newcastle have faced each other once this season at Old Trafford in the Premier League, with the match ending in a 0-0 draw – but as we saw during the midweek victory against Barcelona, this is a different Man Utd team now.
Such has been the progress under Erik ten Hag, his side are expected to win every game they play – but to win a trophy in his first season in charge, given how they started back in August, would be a superb and richly deserved achievement.
So what might stop them other than Newcastle’s desire to win some silverware for the first time since 1955?
United’s biggest obstacle might be fatigue.
A gruelling February has seen them play seven times already, the cup final against Newcastle will be their eighth match of the month.
In comparison, Newcastle have played only three times, and have had a week to prepare for the Wembley showpiece.
Casemiro’s suspension and Antony’s recent injury means that they will almost certainly start and provide a “freshness” that ten Hag will welcome.
In defence Lisandro Martinez should be partnered by multiple Champions League winner Raphael Varane, providing the Frenchman can play a second game in quick succession this week.
Marcus Rashford’s ‘knock’ against Barcelona means he will have a race against time to be fit, but you’d be surprised if he didn’t start given the magnitude of the match.
How will Ten Hag win the Carabao Cup?
Ten Hag praised Newcastle and Howe for how they’ve performed this season but he will want his side to take control of possession as early as possible.
One concern in recent weeks has been the speed in which United start matches.
Against Leeds at Old Trafford it took the home team an hour to get going, and in the Europa League tie against Barcelona on Thursday, it took until just after half-time and Fred’s goal for United to start playing.
Another tactical factor to keep an eye out for is tempo.
If United play quick, one-touch football in that final third, then they’re as dangerous as anyone in Europe, and Newcastle will find them difficult to stop.
The final match winning aspect of United’s team is the experience and culture Ten Hag has developed.
Varane, Martinez, Casemiro, Antony and De Gea are all tipped to start tomorrow and have all won major trophies in their career.
If tiredness is a factor or Newcastle start applying pressure, the minutes played and trophies these players have accumulated over the years will be very beneficial.
Come on United!