Casemiro wins the battle of Brazil in midfield as Man Utd edge Newcastle in EFL Cup final
Casemiro claimed victory in the battle of the Brazilian midfielders as Manchester United won their sixth EFL Cup with a 2-0 success against Newcastle United on Sunday.
On the way to Wembley, it felt like Newcastle fans significantly outnumbered United's, seemingly four out of every five people donning black and white striped shirts.
That feeling continued in the stadium, with almost every Newcastle fan in their seat waiting for kick-off with about 45 minutes to go, their black and white flags flying in anticipation of a momentous occasion, while big gaps remained in the United end just 10 minutes prior to the start, though it was full by kick-off.
On a cold day in London, fans of both teams hoped to be warmed by some samba magic, with United and Newcastle having two Brazilians each in the middle of the park.
United manager Erik ten Hag opted for Fred and Casemiro, while Magpies boss Eddie Howe went with Joelinton and Bruno Guimaraes, with the latter back from suspension in time for the final.
Newcastle had not won any of the six games that Guimaraes had missed this season heading into Sunday's clash, and there was a renewed sense of optimism from the Geordie fans with their key man back.
However, a sloppy foul conceded by Guimaraes just after the half-hour mark gave United a chance to put a free-kick from the left, which Luke Shaw whipped in expertly for Casemiro to nod in.
Newcastle had actually started the game better, with only some poor execution in the final third preventing them from taking the lead, but their ruthless opponents struck first.
Casemiro became just the third Brazilian to score in an EFL Cup final after both Philippe Coutinho and Fernandinho did so in 2016 when Liverpool faced Manchester City.
It was also Casemiro's fourth goal in his last 12 games, one more than he had scored across his previous 89 matches.
The Magpies were caught napping again as Wout Weghorst was allowed to dribble to the edge of the penalty area before releasing Marcus Rashford, whose shot deflected off Sven Botman and over the helpless Loris Karius to make it 2-0.
Newcastle's third-choice goalkeeper was making his first competitive appearance in 728 days, having not played for anyone since his final outing of his loan to Bundesliga side Union Berlin on February 28, 2021.
Selected following Nick Pope's red card against Karius' former team Liverpool, the German could not have done much about either goal, and was able to show off some of his ability before the break when he denied Weghorst from making it 3-0 by tipping the Dutch striker's shot from 20 yards over the crossbar.
Newcastle tried to fight back in the second half, with Howe bringing Alexander Isak on for Sean Longstaff, leaving Joelinton and Guimaraes as the sole two in midfield.
Fred very much played a supporting role to the dominant Casemiro, and was replaced by Marcel Sabitzer with just over 20 minutes remaining.
With 12 minutes to go, Guimaraes made way, noticeably limping after a couple of knocks during the game. The former Lyon man certainly did not disgrace himself, completing 45 of his 49 passes (91.8 per cent) and winning back possession 10 times.
Joelinton tried to revert to his former ways as a striker, having more than twice as many shots as any other Newcastle player (five), but it was ultimately in vain.
It was the experience of Casemiro that told on the big occasion, with the 31-year-old having won so many finals with Real Madrid – including five Champions League titles.
In truth, it was far from a vintage United performance, with Newcastle having 61 per cent possession and 14 shots inside the opposition box to their opponents' five, while they also had 37 touches in the opposing box compared to the Red Devils' 17 at the other end.
Ten Hag's men did enough to win the game, though, and that is all that counts in a final.
It was so near yet so far for Newcastle, who were competing in their first major final since they lost to United by the same score at the old Wembley in the 1999 FA Cup final.
They remain without a trophy of any calibre since the 1969 Fairs Cup, but the stark improvement shown under Howe this season suggests they should not have to wait many more years.
As for United, they brought an end to six years in the trophy wilderness, and had man of the match Casemiro largely to thank.
Had they managed to sign Frenkie de Jong or Adrien Rabiot prior to opting for the Brazilian last year, who knows what could have happened?
They won't spend a moment wondering about that now, with the Red Devils basking in the glow of a cup win once again.