League Cup final, february 26 2023
Erik ten Hag secured silverware at the earliest possible stage of his Manchester United tenure as his side saw off a spirited Newcastle in the League Cup final at Wembley. Eddie Howe's team made a bright start to the game but could not make their early dominance count, and they were made to pay when Casemiro headed home the opening goal from Luke Shaw's free-kick. The in-form Marcus Rashford then doubled United's lead, and Howe was unable to influence the game enough with his changes for Newcastle to find a way back into the tie. Their long wait for a trophy goes on, while United's attention will turn to the other three competitions they are still fighting for this season.
“Together we have experienced the feeling of what it means to win together for Manchester United," Ten Hag said after the game. "It is truly magnificent and will only make each of us hungrier for more success. This group has made great strides in the last few months, but there is still a lot more to come. I can assure you that everyone at Carrington will be working constantly because we know that this club and you, our supporters, deserve more great days like this.”
SHOTS / ON TARGET
ATTACKS INTO AREA
EXPECTED GOALS (XG)
Manchester United used a 4-3-3 shape with the ball. Bruno Fernandes played a key role, making lots of forward runs from his slot as the right-sided number eight, but also moving into central positions to receive closer to the left-sided eight, Fred. Right winger Antony kept a very high position, and he was often United’s highest player, especially when centre-forward Wout Weghorst dropped to receive a vertical pass or a long ball from the back. Diogo Dalot made forward runs from right-back through the inside channel, which was often left vacated after Weghorst, Fernandes and Antony made moves into other zone (below). Dalot exploited this space well, and created United’s first big chance by crossing for Weghorst after Antony slid him in behind.
United looked like they might have some joy with direct balls up towards Weghorst. Even when he didn’t win the first contact, Casemiro showed brilliant anticipation to pounce on loose balls and secure possession quickly to keep up their periods of attacking pressure. United went ahead through the Brazilian's header from a set-piece, and grabbed a second shortly after. Weghorst drove forward with the ball, and Antony and Fernandes dragged opponents over to United’s right (below). Rashford then made a narrow run into a dangerous position for the first time in the game, from where his deflected effort looped over Loris Karius and into the goal.
Newcastle changed their attacking shape from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 in the second half, which meant United had a free player in central midfield. Casemiro was then free to cover in the wide areas or drop into the back line if needed. Rashford had been isolated on the counter from United’s deep block in the first half, but this change meant he could start slightly higher. Newcastle right-back Kieran Trippier did not move as high up the pitch as he had in the 4-3-3, which was another reason Rashford wasn’t forced deeper. This all led to better counter-attacks for United.
Bringing Aaron Wan-Bissaka on for Dalot at half-time meant Allan Saint-Maximin was better contained, which allowed right winger Antony to join in counter-attacks slightly earlier. Ten Hag also added Marcel Sabitzer and Scott McTominay in central midfield, moving Fernandes out to the left and putting Rashford through the middle. This increased his threat from deep counter-attacks, but also during his side’s sustained periods of possession. Fernandes could also move inside to add another body in central midfield, which in turn made room for Luke Shaw to overlap for the first time in the match (below). Casemiro moved into the wide areas to cover; he was crucial to breaking up any of Newcastle’s moves forward as United saw out the win.
Eddie Howe set his Newcastle team up in a 4-3-3 shape, with Joelinton and Sean Longstaff as the number eights either side of the returning Bruno Guimarães in midfield. Joelinton looked to advance on the left side, to support Allan Saint-Maximin (below) in an attempt to overload United right-back Diogo Dalot, with left-back Dan Burn staying back alongside the two centre-backs. On the right side, however, it was full-back Kieran Trippier who advanced to support Miguel Almirón, with Marcus Rashford having to work back to help Luke Shaw when out of possession. One of Longstaff or Guimarães would then provide support on that side, with the other dropping as a pivot during the build-up. This additional support would theoretically leave Trippier free to cross even if Rashford had tracked back.
United set up with Wout Weghorst as a lone presser on the first line of their 4-1-4-1 mid-block, which often enabled one of the Newcastle centre-backs to step into midfield in possession. On the right, this allowed more effective linking into the narrowed Almirón (below), overlapping Trippier or inside-channel runs from Longstaff. These movements created positive moments for Newcastle, while they also helped to limit the threat of Rashford on the counter-attack. Their best moment of the first half came through Longstaff’s superb low cross, but the attack lacked a runner to finish and, despite a strong start, Newcastle went into half-time two goals down.
Howe responded by introducing Alexander Isak for Longstaff, with the Swede joining Callum Wilson in a front two and Guimarães and Joelinton converting to play as a two in central midfield. One of the two forwards then dropped away from the United centre-backs to combine with the midfielders or wingers running ahead of them (below). Trippier still looked to provide crosses from deeper on the right, but his positioning wasn’t as advanced as it had been in the first half. Instead, more direct balls into the front two gave Newcastle opportunities to sustain earlier and more consistent pressure against a United defence that seemed happy to drop into a low block for much of the second half.
Ultimately, Newcastle were unable to effectively penetrate United’s deepening block despite committing more numbers to their attacks. One of Wilson or Isak continued to drop between the lines and provide a link for the two central midfielders, while Almirón’s consistently narrowed position (below) pinned one of the United centre-backs so they couldn’t follow the forward as they dropped. Trippier then attempted to provide width on the right, with Saint-Maximin looking to attack substitute Aaron Wan-Bissaka, with help from Burn, on the left. Wan-Bissaka coped well, however, and with Antony working back to support, United were able to nullify any Newcastle threat and ensure that their opponents’ long wait for silverware goes on.
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Author: The Coaches' Voice