Three reasons Newcastle United will win the Carabao Cup

The Hard Tackle gives three reasons Newcastle United can get the better of Manchester United in the Carabao Cup final and end their long-running trophy drought.

No, we have not been transported back to 1999. Manchester United and Newcastle United will lock horns in an epic Wembley showdown on February 26, 2023, in what will be a repeat of the 1999 FA Cup Final, when the two teams meet in the last game of this season’s Carabao Cup.

Manchester United will head into the Carabao Cup final as narrow favourites, with Erik ten Hag’s side currently seven points and one place above Newcastle United in the Premier League table. However, Newcastle have plenty of reasons to be confident when they come up against Manchester United in their first major final appearance in over 24 years.

Newcastle’s lack of recent success is well-documented. They have not lifted a major domestic trophy since the 1955 FA Cup. And their last final appearance came in the same competition in 1999. To put it into context, Newcastle United last won a trophy — the 1969 Fairs Cup — before astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon for the very first time.

If they succeed here, it will be a strange new feeling of elation and boundless joy for all Newcastle United fans, which is nothing more than what they deserve.

Even when Newcastle United lacked the personnel on the pitch or the required backing from the top, they always had an unmatched hunger to continue supporting the club during tough times, fueled by an extremely passionate city that has been long craving for glory and the good old days.

Thankfully for Newcastle, despite countless relegation battles and two drops to the second tier under much-maligned prior ownership, their fiery fanbase remains the most consistent factor in an otherwise chaotic environment. If anything, the hard times have seemingly made players and fans alike even more determined to achieve something of note and perform in mesmerising fashion.

With that in mind, this piece will argue why Newcastle United will beat Manchester United in this season’s Carabao Cup final. (The other part of this series, which discusses why the Red Devils will win the League Cup, will be up soon. Give it a read, though I strongly disagree that this will be the case).

Eddie Howe’s Well-Rested Pressing Monsters, The Dark Arts, And A Battle-Hardened Mindset

Newcastle United have been transformed from a passive team into one of the most effective pressing teams in the Premier League. That in itself is an astounding achievement given that most of the players were used to playing in a low block under previous managers.

From nailed-on relegation candidates to contenders for Champions League berths and on the verge of creating history, this has been a meteoric rise for the Magpies. And despite their cash-rich and heavy-spending status, they continue to play with an eleven that is not radically different from last season under Howe and contains a lot of the faces from the previous regime.

Eddie Howe achieved this brilliant feat through the relentless press and a cohesive, warrior-like winning mentality in which each and every player plays out of their skin every single match. They have been a delight to watch this season, always looking to play on the front foot, linking back to Howe’s mantra, “Our identity is our intensity.”

Their trademark pressing style has played a major role in getting the fans more onside during games. Off the ball, the Toon are in the faces of their opponents thanks to their hell-bent pressing monsters upfront and in midfield.

The Magpies more often than not set up in a 4-3-3 system that quickly morphs into a 4-5-1, with Joelinton and Miguel Almiron tracking the flanks. They press high and intensely from the front, with tight spacing between each line. They hunt teams down like hounds in packs, forcing mistakes and turnovers high up the pitch.

For instance, Arsenal (last season), Tottenham, and Chelsea were shell-shocked last season as the ferocity of Newcastle’s fearless pressing machines forced them to lose the ball time and again and confined them inside their own box.

And it won’t be surprising if Newcastle use the same strategy in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester United, who will be missing their best passer and most press-resistant player in Christian Eriksen and have a goalkeeper prone to mistakes when forced to play out from the back in David de Gea.

Their high-pressing, high-intensity brand of football led them to a club-record 17-game unbeaten run in the league, which has served as the foundation for a successful season on Tyneside. However, a recent hiccup after the turn of the year has frustrated some supporters.

Five draws from their last six games have hindered Newcastle to capitalise on multiple slips from fellow top-four hopefuls. Despite their obvious momentous achievements this season, they have struggled to be clinical enough to put away quality chances. Moreover, they have looked jaded, leggy, and lacklustre in their last couple of games.

While they have not endured the rigours of Europe, a lack of quality squad depth and injuries have resulted in Howe utilising the same 12-13 players in pretty much every game, making only minor tweaks to the winning formula.

Nevertheless, even when boasting all the right tools that enables you to go all the way in a big final, your mission becomes significantly easier when your opponent have tricky-looking congested fixture lists.

Newcastle have been handed a real advantage in the run-in ahead of the Carabao Cup final later this month, as their opponents, Manchester United, have three games to play between now and then, compared to Newcastle’s only one. The Red Devils will have played four games in the 12 days leading up to the final, including a tough Europa League double header with Barcelona.

Three days before the big night at Wembley, Manchester United will face the Catalan giants at Old Trafford for a place in the quarter-finals. And given Barcelona’s fine form, that will be a tense and taxing affair.

On the other hand, Eddie Howe’s men will have little over a week to prepare after facing Liverpool at St James’ Park, allowing them to recharge their ultra-power batteries. So they will be entirely focused on the final, whereas Erik Ten Hag has the Europa League second leg to worry about.

It is also worth noting that this will be Bruno Guimaraes’s first game back after his three-match suspension. So he will not only be fresh but also chomping at the bit to get back onto the pitch and make an impression, having already garnered cult-hero status in the Toon fanbase.

What’s more, Newcastle have established themselves as masters of the dark arts in the Premier League and have frustrated their opponents so successfully on a number of occasions in 2022/23.

From faking injuries to facilitate in-game team talks, to nefarious time-wasting by arguing with the referee over the high number of opposition players on the pitch, and perhaps best of all, irritating and mocking opposition players as they walk off the pitch after being red-carded, Who could forget club captain Jamaal Lascelles receiving yellow cards without even setting foot on the field?

While they have been compared with Kevin Keegan’s famous entertainers for their flamboyance, Howe has cultivated a somewhat different image and mentality for his side influenced by the king of dark arts, Atletico Madrid’s gangster-like fearful boss Diego Simeone aka El Cholo.

The former Bournemouth manager once said, “We’re not here to be popular. We are here to compete.”

This is a team with steel and a healthy degree of cynicism running through the players’ veins thanks to the countless relegation battles they have fought in the recent past. They couldn’t care less if the EFL Cup final does not turn out to be the end-to-end contest that neutrals would be hoping for under the lights at Wembley.

These Newcastle players will get their hands dirty and make it a scrappy, turgid affair if things do not click at the start in order to give themselves the best possible chance of getting the job done, a mentality that more often than not serves well in big finals.

They have Pound-for-Pound The Best Defence In The Country

Newcastle United have the best defensive record in the Premier League. And we will now argue that they have pound-for-pound the best in the division by a country mile. Just let that sink in for a moment, since this isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Newcastle or even Eddie Howe for that matter.

Some media pundits called him “naive” for setting up defences at Bournemouth. Howe seemed to have taken the criticism personally and has now built a backline that simply refuses to let in goals. Before Howe’s arrival, Newcastle’s defences were carved open time and again like a hot knife through butter.

Before Howe’s arrival, Newcastle were on course to become the worst defensive side in Premier League history last season; they are now the best in the English top flight. So much so, opposition teams struggle to give Newcastle a proper game, with the backline nullifying potential threats to a great extent by limiting the opposition strikers to low-quality shots.

Transformations do not get much bigger than that. The easy answer to how Newcastle have maneuvered this is to point to the deepest of deep pockets the new owners possess. But the fact that the whole back four cost Newcastle less than one Manchester United defender in Lisandro Martinez says it all. It is not even that the Toon chiefs have to hand these players ultra-massive wages to fend off competition from other top clubs.

Fabian Schar was plucked from obscurity for a measly £3 million quid after Spanish outfit Deportivo La Coruna’s relegation to the second tier. Towering centre-back and local Geordie Dan Burn was hardly getting a look-in at Brighton, while Kieran Trippier was available on the market for the entire 2021 summer transfer window.

No one took a punt on the England international. He turned out to be an instant hit thanks to his marquee free-kicks, proven international quality, as well as vital leadership skills for a team that desperately needed it.

A classy and complete footballer, Trippier’s ability to play passes over the top and work out tight spaces with neat inventive flicks and dinks also suits nicely with the likes of Callum Wilson and Almiron for completely different reasons, literally revolutionizing the latter’s Newcastle career.

The same goes for Sven Botman, a Ligue 1 winner, but Newcastle had to compete only with financially weak AC Milan for his services. The Dutchman has since formed the best centre-back pairing in the Premier League alongside the aforementioned Schar. Still only 23 years old, it is scary how good Botman can become in the future considering he is already in the conversation to be among the best in the Premier League.

Some may argue that Varane-Martinez or Saliba-Gabriel are better. But the Newcastle duo has lost only one game when put together on the pitch, and that too when their team was down to 10-men early in the game against Liverpool. But then again, the correct way to get media attention is to spend £50 million on a flashy centre-back, and not by improving the cast-offs in Schar and Burn and making them the cornerstone of your team.

To be clear, we are not claiming the Toon backline has done everything on their own. Of course, clean sheets are a byproduct of a team’s defensive efforts as a whole. But Newcastle’s defensive warriors deserve their share of credit and have not been talked about enough.

A glimpse behind the scenes into the steely back four’s obsessive mindset to preserve clean sheets, the unbreakable brotherhood, and their willingness to defend and embrace the dark arts of football provides some insight as to why they are the best in the business.

 In simpler terms, the quality, cohesion, and chemistry of the back four are unmatched across the Premier League and one of the best in Europe. Not only the tenacious defensive work, but Newcastle’s backline is responsible for upping the overall intensity and tempo of their play, slicing nice, progressive passes down or across the flanks into wide men in behind or the midfielders.

Given that Manchester United will arrive at Wembley with a lop-sided attack heavily reliant on Marcus Rashford’s pace and finishing to produce the goods in the final third, everything will be quite predictable and easy to analyse for Howe to organise his defenders accordingly.

The battle between Trippier and Rashford will be interesting, with the former Atletico Madrid man very capable of pushing his England compatriot back owing to his understanding of when to venture forward and put his creative passing to good use.

Typically, supporters of finalist teams expect strikers and attack to lead their team to glory. But Newcastle fans will be counting on their his stingy defence to keep things solid and lay the groundwork for the attacking players to flourish going forward, ultimately bringing the long-awaited major silverware to Tyneside.

Loris Karius: The Ultimate Hope

Simply put, Nick Pope has been sensational for Newcastle United. The Magpies snapped up Pope from Burnley for just £10 million this summer, which was believed to be an excellent and opportunistic piece of business at the time. Actually, in hindsight, it has turned out to be a bargain.

Pope has arguably been the most transformative defensive addition since last summer. So much so that his teammate, Bruno Guimaraes, even called Pope the “greatest goalkeeper in the world” in the post-match interview after the England international kept his 10th straight clean sheet in a row to help Newcastle to a 1-0 win over Southampton in the EFL Cup semi-final first leg. And while the statement seems to be a long shot, Pope is certainly in the conversation to be the best goalkeeper in the Premier League.

He has enabled Eddie Howe to deploy a higher defensive line to condense the pitch in order to apply suffocating pressure in prime positions. What’s more, he has shown incredible resilience and the rare ability to stand up at key moments in matches. In fact, without his heroics throughout the League Cup campaign, Newcastle wouldn’t have reached the final.

The 30-year-old saved three penalties in the Round of 32 against Crystal Palace before making some outstanding saves in subsequent rounds against Bournemouth and Leicester City to prevent an opposition come back after Newcastle went ahead.

He made two key interventions in the first leg of the semi-final to keep Southampton at bay and protect Newcastle’s slender 1-0 lead. That was followed by another spectacular block in the return leg to deny Adam Armstrong the chance to make it 3-2 on aggregate, and a nervy last 10 minutes at St. James’ Park.

That said, the Toon will be without Pope for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester United after the goalkeeper was sent off in the first half of Newcastle’s 2-0 defeat at St. James’ Park on Saturday. His biggest strength turned into a disaster as he was given his marching orders after handling the ball well outside his area in his attempt to clear the ball in a one-on-one against Mohamed Salah in a moment of madness.

It is a complete catastrophe when you consider that Martin Dubravka, Newcastle’s backup goalkeeper, is cup-tied having made an appearance in the same competition while on loan at Manchester United, ironically. That means Newcastle have to rely on either Loris Karius or Mark Gillespie to be in goal for what is arguably the game of the century so far. It must be the most Newcastle United-like scenario imaginable.

Many Toon supporters would have thought that as the Magpies evolve into a big club once more, the drama of everything Black or White would be gone and it will be all bore, dull, and tired of winning major silverware, just like the case with Manchester City. But the unpredictability, chaos, and surprise are in the DNA of this club, and in the words of Pope’s usual understudy, Dubravka: “It’s like the script from a movie, so incredible. Now we want a happy ending.”

Ever since, Pope’s dismissal, Newcastle’s Twitter has been flooded with creative ways that Newcastle could explore to have their No. 1 available. The popular Toon Polls Twitter account, for one, has teasingly suggested seeking the help of local non-league club Blyth Spartans by sending Pope on an emergency loan to the National League North side to play out his suspension by this mid-week itself.

Many Magpies supporters have backed the notion, although some have also opted against tempting fate and allowing stand-in goalkeeper Loris Karius to take part in what some have referred to as the biggest redemption story yet in football.

Occasionally, the football universe provides a chance for redemption, and this is one Karius must take with both hands. The spotlight on him has been unforgiving ever since he made the two infamous high-profile errors in the 2018 Champions League final for Liverpool. He was made the scapegoat for the English media and fans in general.

However, it is easy to forget that he was concussed in a clatter with Sergio Ramos prior to those critical errors and that he was the one who helped Liverpool get to Kyiv in the first place.

The scars of those mistakes have remained, as that proved to be Karius’s last outing for an English club. February 2021 was the last time Karius laced up his boots and put on his gloves for a competitive appearance for Union Berlin. Newcastle fans will hope he has the mother of all redemption arcs when he makes his Magpies debut at Wembley on Sunday afternoon.

The way this season has been going for Newcastle with all the storylines with the likes of Schar, Almiron, and Joelinton reviving their flailing careers and Geordie boys Dan Burn and Sean Longstaff stepping up in the quarter-final and semi-finals of the EFL Cup, it would be fitting that Karius plays a blinder and has the game of his life in the final.

He deserves another chance in the spotlight to redeem himself. It is poetry in motion, the magic of cup, and the way the universe works. Newcastle fans can just imagine the headlines: Rashford, who is in the form of his life, denied by Karius as he makes the deciding save in the penalty shootout next Sunday to become a club legend and the King of the North in both proverbial and literal terms.

Stats taken from fbref (powered by Opta)

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