Trophy droughts & progress – final will be ‘brilliant’
Manchester United and Newcastle will aim to secure the first piece of silverware available this season in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final at Wembley.
Erik ten Hag’s side thrashed Nottingham Forest 5-0 on aggregate over two legs in the semi-finals, while Eddie Howe’s team reached their first domestic final since 1999 with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Southampton.
The Red Devils, who are fighting for success on four fronts with the Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League as well, have not won a trophy since 2016-17, when they claimed the EFL Cup and the Europa League under former boss Jose Mourinho.
Newcastle, who were beaten by Manchester United in the 1999 FA Cup final, will be attempting to win their first major trophy in almost 54 years, with their most recent coming in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969.
Silverware would underline Man Utd progress
Manchester United travel to London having lost just once since 6 November and on the back of a nine-game unbeaten run.
That sequence includes Thursday’s rousing victory over Spanish giants Barcelona, which saw Ten Hag’s team progress into the last 16 of the Europa League, although with French striker Anthony Martial already ruled out the fitness of top scorer Marcus Rashford is a major concern.
The England forward was substituted in the 88th minute against Barca and later posted on Instagram an image of himself walking down the touchline looking in discomfort accompanied by a bandaged emoji.
Having overcome injury issues in previous campaigns, Rashford has been in red-hot form for United this season with 24 goals, a career-best total. No player in Europe’s top-five leagues has more goals than him since the World Cup break.
“Football is probably 95% your mentality,” Rashford said. “That gives you the baseline to perform. There are a lot of players that have ability – that’s why they play at the top level. But what sets them apart is the mentality.
“I’ve been on both sides of it. I understand the strength of it and the value. I’m concentrating a lot more on keeping myself in that headspace and it’s needed in order to win games and trophies.”
In total contrast to the negativity and disharmony that surrounded their dismal 2021-22 season, United also remain in the FA Cup and have put themselves into a position to contend if league leaders Arsenal or second-placed Manchester City slip up in the Premier League title race.
A first trophy for the club in almost six years would only likely add to the upbeat feeling that has been restored by the Dutch boss’ impressive start to his tenure and possibly provide further impetus in their chase for honours.
“For the position we have been in over the past years and the feeling we have inside the dressing room, it means everything,” said United left-back Luke Shaw.
“It has been such a long time since we have won a trophy. People will say it is the Carabao Cup but for us, it is massive. It is something we have been aiming for a long time; to get that winning feeling back, that feeling of winning trophies.”
Manager Ten Hag said: “It’s a great opportunity to get the silverware in. It’s all about that glory and honour in football. We deserve to play the final and we have a great opportunity to win the cup and we have to do everything to get it to Manchester.
“I think we are in a process where everyone believes. We go from game to game and we are looking forward to the next game. We have to follow that line to improve and be the best.”