With a clenched fist that evoked his team’s fight here, Erik ten Hag raises the Carabao Cup, and perhaps raises a new era at Manchester United. The bright Dutch coach has ended the club’s six-year wait for a trophy with this 2-0 win, but what feels just as joyous for his squad and supporters is the signpost of progress it stands for.
Newcastle United’s own wait now goes to at least 55 years, the big return to Wembley ultimately another disappointing defeat to the club that denied them at key moments in the 1990s. Not that the Old Trafford support, who of course sang about Kevin Keegan, should perhaps be too gloating about that. This very run to the final makes it feel that Newcastle’s next trophy won’t be long coming, even if it never really felt like a goal was coming from Eddie Howe’s side here.
They had no answer to man-of-the-match Casemiro’s brilliant header or Marcus Rashford’s deflected strike. Newcastle couldn’t get past the revived David de Gea, who set a club record for clean sheets. His much-discussed opposite number Loris Karius didn’t have a bad game, and made one fine late save, but questions will be asked about how he conceded a crucial second goal.
This Saudi Arabia state project doesn’t, consequently, have its big first sportswashing prize yet. Such discussion around the day is unavoidable, especially as a relatively poor game was characterised by constant chants from the Manchester United end about getting the Glazers out. Avram Glazer attended the game, fanning stories that they will ultimately decide not to sell.
An exciting and successful United could offer something of a complication, given that the owners will have seen how much Jurgen Klopp’s best Liverpool transformed their finances.
A further irony to this was that it was far from United’s most exciting display of late, and certainly far removed from that thrilling second half against Barcelona. Perhaps that is the cost of such a fixture list, but that is also what success brings.
Ten Hag looks like he can bring even more of it back to United. What was particularly impressive about this final, though, was how he worked around such issues. It shows an impressive pragmatism within his grander idea. There was an astuteness to the gameplan beyond the team he has created.
Manchester United very evidently ceded the ball to Newcastle for most of the first half, at once undercutting some of their qualities. Howe’s side are better responding and breaking, and didn’t seem to quite know what do when given so much initiative. That was compounded by two issues. One is their current form, where they are barely scoring. The other is their current squad, where it is still in progress. Bruno Guimaraes, naturally their best player here if occasionally letting it get to him, just looks a level above the rest of their side.
And for all Manchester United looked below their recent level, they still have so many attacking weapons. There was an irony in how one was where Newcastle are supposed to be strongest. That was a header from a set-piece.
Casemiro is superb in that area himself, though, which he showed with a brilliant plundering finish into the corner.
Karius could do nothing about that, although you couldn’t fully say the same for the next goal.
The stand-in goalkeeper was unlucky in how Marcus Rashford’s shot deflected off Sven Botman, but he was down early and the question persisted over whether first-choice Nick Pope would have got to it.
The other element was, of course, the speed of Rashford. He got the ball out of his feet so quickly. He might not have been credited with the goal, but it was another mark of a player in the form of his career. Weghorst, who you couldn’t quite say that about, did superb work in the build-up to put Rashford through.
It was at that point a huge ask for Newcastle. There had only been one game this calendar year where they scored more than once, and that was against Southampton in this competition. It has instead been three in seven games in the Premier League.
If the sense is they are running out of steam there, that wasn’t the case in this game. Newcastle did put it up to Manchester United, and had them a little nervier than expected. It also had them resolute, all of Casemiro, Fred, Raphael Varane, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and – above all – Lisando Martinez offering thunderous challenges. There was a real desire to every decisive moment, something that Ten Hag has done so well to instil.
Howe has had that effect on Newcastle, as was evident with how much they had Manchester United pinned back, but they were lacking any kind of edge.
It was an irony for a team that have made a virtue of being “nasty”, and the game occasionally devolved into scraps. Manchester United rose above it, however, to lift the League Cup.