Manchester United vs Newcastle United: Three key battles in the Carabao Cup final

The Hard Tackle takes a look at three key battles that will determine who comes out on top in the Carabao Cup final between Manchester United and Newcastle United.

Newcastle United and Manchester United will battle it out in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday for what looks set to be the best EFL Cup title clash in a long time. It promises to be a busy weekend in the English capital as supporters from both teams take over London for the much-anticipated showpiece event under the Wembley arc.

Manchester United and Newcastle United will be delighted with how their seasons have unfolded so far. It goes without saying that these two teams have already exceeded their preseason expectations by miles.

With their consistent results in the league this season, both sides will be aiming to secure a place in the Champions League. But this weekend’s clash represents the opportunity to win the first trophy of a new era. This is arguably the encounter between two of the Premier League’s most improved and in-form teams over the course of the season. So this game should be of high-quality affair.

The Red Devils will be buoyed by their recent red-hot form as they bid to win their first major honour since their Carabao Cup/Europa League double in 2016/17. The wait has been much longer for Newcastle. Sunday’s game will be their first Wembley final since 1999 when ironically, Manchester United defeated them.

There will be some intriguing and exciting talents on display. And with that in mind, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the important battles that will determine the fate of the Carabao Cup final between Manchester United and Newcastle United this Sunday.

Casemiro vs Bruno Guimaraes

This midfield battle is sure to dictate the script on Sunday. Newcastle United under Eddie Howe have come to depend heavily on Bruno Guimaraes’s ability to move the ball around and provide his teammates with an added sense of ball security. On the other hand, Casemiro has been integral in Manchester United’s recent resurgence thanks to his defensive tenacity and snappy tackles.

Casemiro has been imperious for Manchester United since moving from Real Madrid in a £70 million deal last summer. He has only been at Old Trafford for eight months or so. But he is already been a transformational signing. Not only have the Red Devils filled a gaping hole in their midfield, but they have also done it with one of the best players in the world in the position.

The Brazilian veteran has brought some bite in the middle of the pitch, calmness on the ball, and a level of security and stability to the defense, allowing Manchester United to control games. However, the most important and refreshing thing he has brought with him is a winner’s mentality, something that has been missing at the Theatre of Dreams since Sir Alex Ferguson’s glory days.

Casemiro’s integration into the Red Devils’ team has been one of the driving forces behind their revival. Anyone who watched him lift the UEFA Champions League trophy five times at Real Madrid knew the defensive-minded midfielder would shield the Manchester United defence expertly, break up opposition attacks, and put in snappy tackles.

But there is so much more finesse to his game than just winning and recycling possession, particularly his desire to move the ball upfield quickly to help turn defence into attack. The Brazilian;s presence has helped creator-in-chief Bruno Fernandes in multiple ways. The Portuguese playmaker now has a world-class player behind him who can carry out the nitty-gritty defensive work, easing the workload on Fernandes to put additional graft out of possession.

Also, with Casemiro always keen to pass the ball forward quickly as soon as he wins possession back, Fernandes can be picked out in dangerous positions and wreak havoc on opposition defences. With a more mobile frontline in the aftermath of Ronaldo’s exit, coupled with the emergence of Alejandro Garnacho and the rise in Marcus Rashford’s confidence, it is no surprise that Fernandes is creating so many chances.

Casemiro will need to be neutralised for Newcastle United to stop the Carabao Cup final against Manchester United from getting out of their hands. Fortunately, they have one shining armour in their arsenal that is a match for the Brazilian destroyer. Of course, we are talking about Casemiro’s compatriot, or heir, Bruno Guimaraes, who will be tasked by Newcastle to control the midfield battle and be handed the major playmaking duties.

There is a reason why Newcastle have the best defence in the country. And that is down to the levels of maturity and flexibility in the Brazilian maestro’s game. An aggressive, bombastic figure in the middle who loves getting into a fight and controlling games for his side, Guimaraes is also lethal with the ball, an exceptional distributor, and a well-rounded creator from deep.

The 25-year-old has truly lived up to his billing and has stylistic similarities to Casemiro. No wonder Real Madrid approached the Newcastle playmaker in search of an able Casemiro successor.

There is a reason why their form has dipped in recent times. It is no coincidence that the Magpies have yet to win a Premier League game in Guimaraes’s absence. He has been the Player of the Season. And everything Newcastle do in the build-up play goes through the former Lyon man, who is so often the driving force in midfield for them.

Even though Sean Longstaff has been an able deputy in the holding role, Newcastle have really missed Guimaraes’s passes, his vision, his goals, and his ability to carve open defences in the final third. He is the cheat code for Eddie Howe’s side due to his versatility to drift into multiple midfield or central attacking positions, and a certain double-edged sword since he can break as well as create attacks. As a result, Casemiro, the more defensive-minded of the two, may be asked to reduce his compatriot’s dynamic attacking influence.

Ironically enough, both Brazilians will be fresh for the tie after serving suspensions due to picking up straight red cards at the start of February, although Casemiro will have two UEFA Europa League outings against Barcelona under his belt.

These two midfield anchors cancelled each other out when Newcastle and Manchester United met earlier this season at Old Trafford, where the Magpies dominated the middle of the park in the first half but lost control in the second as the Red Devils grew into the game.

Arguably the two most pivotal last-standing players on both sides whoever wins this feisty all-Brazilian battle will gain control at the epicentre of the match and will dictate the proceedings.

Marcus Rashford vs Allan Saint-Maximin

The battle between the difference-makers is always going to be an intriguing one. But it does not get much tastier than seeing Marcus Rashford and Allan Saint-Maximin going head-to-head and running the show with their menacing pace, ankle-breaking skills, and lightning-quick afterburners.

The Red Devils, for one, boast a menacing attacking line that can cause major problems for Newcastle, with Jadon Sancho, Wout Weghorst, and Alejandro Garnacho firing on all cylinders lately. Meanwhile, Bruno Fernandes is combining so well with the clinical Rashford, who offers a unique threat to the frontline with his menacing movement, sheer pace in a foot race, and emphatic finishing.

The England international looks like the most determined player for Manchester United and is certainly riding on the hottest scoring streak in world football currently. He is leading from the front and setting new standards this season, with the Red Devils still very dependent on him to be the clutch player in big moments.

The 25-year-old, who endured a forgettable 2021/22 campaign, has been in stunning form and has literally been battering defences ever since returning from the World Cup break, scoring 16 goals in 18 appearances in all competitions since the World Cup, more than any other player in Europe’s top-five leagues.

Rashford has netted in nine of his last 11 league outings, with Bruno Fernandes providing much of the supply. To be precise, only Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland (6) are a better creator-goalscorer combination than Fernandes and Rashford (5) in the Premier League this season.

At this point, It is not a stretch to say that Rashford is a match-winning machine, if stats from transfermarkt are anything to go by. The Englishman has netted the winner in nine of Manchester United’s 15 league wins this season, steering the ship singlehandedly across the line.

He can cause trouble with his speedy moves and predatorial work in the final third and run riot if not neutralised. He has become the biggest fear of teams facing Manchester United. In recent times, the question repeated to each team before their clash against the Manchester giants is how they are going to stop the English superstar.

But the Manchester United talisman will have his hands full against the robust and rock-solid Newcastle rearguard in the Carabao Cup final. The opposition are well aware of his abilities and will give him the utmost respect.

Fortunately for Newcastle, they have a composed and smart defender in the form of Sven Botman at the back. The Dutch centre-back has had a really impressive 2022/23 season so far for the Magpies and is now a mainstay in Eddie Howe’s side, establishing a formidable central defensive partnership alongside experienced Swiss defender Fabian Schar.

Rashford is expected to transition into central striker areas if he does not get much change off the left. Thus, both Newcastle defenders will have to be at their sharpest while tracking his movements perfectly and making clutch challenges whenever necessary. They have to ensure Rashford does not get too many shots on goal and protect their goalkeeper if Newcastle are to defy the odds on Sunday.

Newcastle also have a beast of their own in Saint-Maximin, who is actually gaining more and more confidence since returning from an injury layoff. The mercurial Frenchman is mordacious and explosive, and his talent has always been crystalliferous. A gargantuan conundrum to every defender on his day. Without a doubt, he is one of the most skillful players in the Premier League, or, dare we say, in the world, after he topped the list for the most take-ons completed in Europe’s top-five leagues in the 2022 calendar year.

Simply put, his dribbling prowess and electrical pace are quintessentially exceptional. He was an absolute joy to watch when Newcastle drew 3-3 with Manchester City earlier this season, while his goal versus Wolverhampton Wanderers was breathtakingly sublime, sensational, powerful, and tremendous.

When it comes to “X-factor” players, they don’t come any better than the Frenchman, who can run opposition defences ragged and compel them to throw their defensive structure plans out the window when he is on fire.

However, the 25-year-old has endured a topsy-turvy 2022/23 season at St. James’ Park. He was once seen as arguably Newcastle’s most important player during their struggles under Steve Bruce. But Saint-Maximin has had to watch on from the sidelines due to injury and has fallen down the pecking order at St. James’ Park in recent months due to the form of other players in his position.

Miguel Almiron, Joelinton, and Joe Willock are often seen in the defensive third to support their back line. Saint-Maximin has always been hesitant to track back before Howe arrived on Tyneside, wanting to work higher up the pitch. This was justified by supporters and their former manager, as Saint-Maximin carried the entire team’s attacking impetus for lengthy periods of time.

This is a different Newcastle under Eddie Howe that relies more on team ethics and play patterns than individualism, with a clear blueprint and workhorses on their side. There are better players available and a more attractive style of play, which has resulted in Newcastle being more of a threat going forward as a unit.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the Frenchman is taking his time to learn a different system that is not exactly tailored to his strengths and adjust his playing style according to it. Though Saint-Maximin has not played much this season, his interplay with teammates and defensive work have dramatically improved from last season. But that has had a detrimental effect on his offensive influence or flashy output, which has attracted some criticism from some sections of his own fanbase.

The scary thing about Saint-Maximin is that he always had plenty of promise but very little end product, or work rate, for that matter. Now, it seems he is working on those attributes. And if he does succeed, he’ll develop into one hell of a player. There have been flashes that he is returning to his destructive best without compromising on any of the gritty defensive work.

His man-of-the-match performance in the 2-0 home defeat to Liverpool was massively encouraging and a sign of things to come in the near future. While it was a bad day at the office for the Magpies, who went down to 10 men early in the game, Saint-Maximin was a bright spark throughout, quite particularly on transitions, and created some excellent scoring opportunities by himself.

He looked more like a team player, as evidenced by the number of final third passes he completed, picked up prime positions inside the opposition box, and won back possession in the attacking third more than any other Newcastle attacker, which shows that he is pressing the opposition a lot more and taking on board what Howe wants from him.

He is long overdue a match-winning display, and Newcastle fans will hope that’ll come sooner rather than later, especially with the Carabao Cup final against Manchester United just around the corner.

The Red Devils should underestimate him at their own peril, although it will be interesting to see if Ten Hag opts for a more forward-thinking right-back in Diogo Dalot or will prefer a specialised one-v-one defender in Aaron Wan-Bissaka to contain the Saint-Maximin threat.

Luke Shaw vs Kieran Trippier

While it is not as headline-grabbing as the aforementioned two, this duel between the two England full-backs will be just as crucial and will tell who will dominate one flank in the Carabao Cup final between Manchester United and Newcastle United.

An exemplary leader, Kieran Trippier has arguably been in the best form of his life this season. Taking on the pressure of the armband instantly and with ease, Trippier has been the template for how to flourish as a well-rounded right-back in the modern game. Anyone who says you cannot teach old dogs new tricks obviously hasn’t taken note of Eddie Howe’s use of Trippier.

Going forward, the 32-year-old has often acted as Newcastle’s chief playmaker from the advanced right midfielder position and has produced some jaw-dropping moments of sheer brilliance. Be it his stunning free-kick against Manchester City or the perfectly-weighted through-ball to assist Joe Willock’s winner against Southampton, Trippier has been a nuisance for defences. And you just know it is going to be a pin-point delivery when he drops one in the mixer with his wand of a right foot.

While there has been no disregarding how solid he is at snuffing out attacks, he has shown some defensive lapses while defending at the back post with erratic positioning. And it is that which Luke Shaw may look to exploit as he plays the dynamic full-back role, looking to connect the defence with the attack with his surging runs, as well as arriving late in the box to finish sequences with his powerful left-foot.

Trippier often forays forward to get into prime crossing positions or to create interplays and triangles involving Miguel Almiron, Bruno Guimaraes, and Sean Longstaff when he is not tracking back, which could mean more of an opportunity for Shaw to thrive in the space left behind his counterpart.

Trippier may also have to play a more restrained role in attack than in previous matches, as he will be tested to his limit in the final when he will be up against the one and only Rashford. He will want to tie down the Manchester United roadrunner. But he also likes to fly forward himself to add to Newcastle’s attacks. So, there is that dilemma too.

But then again, the Newcastle United skipper recently spent three seasons under the master of dark arts, Diego Simeone, at Atletico Madrid and will have learned a thing or two about underhand tactics and game management against rapid wingers that saw him win La Liga in 2021 and compete in numerous finals both domestically and in Europe. It will not be a surprise if the Toon defender draws inspiration from his former boss at Wembley.

Meanwhile, Shaw has continued his recent good form and has become undroppable in the Manchester United XI in recent months. So much so that Erik ten Hag has preferred him at the heart of defence in the left-sided role ahead of Harry Maguire on numerous occasions.

Jokes aside, that versatility could come in handy here for Shaw in order to read Newcastle’s pattern play and Almiron’s buzzing movement down the Newcastle United right. Like Trippier, the 27-year-old is enjoying the freedom under the new boss to attack and not just focus on his defensive duties.

The chemistry between Rashford and Shaw has been ever-present in recent games. For instance, the left-back produced a crucial moment with his wonderful defense-splitting cross for Rashford in the recent game against Leeds United. Shaw is also smoother at ball progression and can dart forward with pace and power.

In many ways, Shaw and Trippier have similar attributes, which is fitting as both are England manager Gareth Southgate’s more trusted picks. Full-backs are a massive part of modern football. And both ten Hag and Howe are making good use of the top-notch talent at their disposal in that department. But who will have a greater influence in the Carabao Cup final between Manchester United and Newcastle remains to be seen.

Wildcard duel: David de Gea vs Loris Karius

Apart from the aforementioned battles, the two players to look forward to in the match are the goalkeepers of each side, who both have the golden opportunity to redeem themselves.

David de Gea, for one, endured a difficult start to the season with a couple of high-profile blunders in hefty defeats against Brentford and Brighton. But he has since been flawless between the sticks, except for the one incident against Everton in the FA Cup.

De Gea has put in several standout performances for Manchester United and has kept the opposition at bay when the Red Devils were under the weather at times in their recent run. To be fair, he has always been gifted with strong reflexes and comes up with a world-class save every now and then. But he has now shown an improvement in his ball-playing attributes and distribution.

Yet, the scars of that nightmarish Europa League final night against Villarreal remain vivid in the minds of the Old Trafford faithful, and concerns have been raised about his legacy at Manchester United, despite recently matching Peter Schmeichel’s club clean sheet record (180).

With his contract talks now in limbo, the Spaniard now has the opportunity to put all rumours to rest by putting on a top-notch performance to get Manchester United over the line against Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley. On the other hand, Loris Karius could not have prayed for a better situation in which he gets the chance to rewrite the story of his career and prove to the world that he is still a competent goalie.

The redemption arc narrative around Karius is of utmost importance. After all, this is Newcastle’s biggest game of the century so far. And they will line up without their first-choice keeper after Nick Pope received marching orders at St. James’ Park against Liverpool in a cynical way.

With Martin Dubravka cup-tied and Karl Darlow on loan at Hull City, the fourth-choice option, Karius, will be called upon to lace his boots and put on his rusty gloves for the big game at Wembley. The keeper does, of course, have a history in cup finals after a shaky performance in the 2018 Champions League final ultimately costing Liverpool the title. Looking past that, he’s a competent and skilled goalkeeper on whom Newcastle can rely.

Before the nightmare in Kyiv, Karius was regarded as a promising shot-stopper with brilliant reflexes, excellent sweeping ability, and aerial dominance. Pope’s ability to sweep up is a huge part of Newcastle’s identity. The England international is quick out of his area to mop up behind the back-four, which sometimes can backfire like this past weekend but crucially allows him to maintain a high defensive line, and make pitch small to press intently.

Karius had this ability and used to be a more ball-comfortable goalie back in his Liverpool days. But he has not made a competitive outing in a long time and could be rusty in ball handling, which could cost Newcastle, with Rashford and co. chomping at the bit to fire from a distance to test Karius.

But that is the beauty of football; nothing can be predicted before it happens. There have been countless stories through the times in football where these things have happened and players have risen from the ashes. In fact, Newcastle have been a team full of redemption arcs, and this is the one and only chance for Karius to prove his worth.

Of course, the psychology of the penalty shootout could again come into play on Sunday, where Karius holds a slight advantage in comparison to his counterpart David de Gea, boasting a save percentage of 25% to De Gea’s 18% throughout their respective careers. But, these statistics will be meaningless on the big day. And it will be intriguing to observe who can keep their cool under pressure.

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