Man Utd and Newcastle both striving for overdue silverware in Carabao Cup final
Manchester United and Newcastle will contest Sunday’s Carabao Cup final both desperate for success.
In United’s case, the wait amounts to six years; for the Magpies, the glory days are significantly more distant.
The trophy cabinet at St James’ Park was last unlocked to receive significant silverware in 1969 when Joe Harvey’s side collected the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, and they have not tasted domestic glory since they returned to the north east from Wembley in 1955 with the FA Cup for the third time in five years.
YOUR CARABAO CUP FINALISTS! 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/lJEkcRExkr
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) January 31, 2023
In the circumstances, it is little wonder that this season’s charge to the League Cup final has captured the imagination of supporters, only a handful of whom have any memory of those halcyon days.
By comparison, Manchester United’s need remains in its infancy, although for fans who have grown accustomed to honours, the yearning is no less acute.
Since the day in May 1955 that Jackie Milburn and his team-mates beat Manchester City 3-1 beneath the famous Twin Towers, their vanquished opponents’ neighbours have collected no fewer than 40 major trophies including 13 Premier League titles, 10 FA Cups and three European Cups or Champions Leagues.
However, they have won nothing since their 2017 Europa League triumph, their longest run in 40 years and a source of huge frustration.
Champions. #UELfinal pic.twitter.com/Q2ZgNj86SQ
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 24, 2017
In that context, victory this weekend will mean so much more to either club.
If life on the pitch in both the red half of Manchester and on Tyneside has been in a state of flux in recent years, events off it have been little less taxing.
The Glazer family’s two-decade tenure at Old Trafford has been – and continues to be – contentious following a leveraged buy-out which loaded the club with debt, but recent developments concerning a potential sale have sparked hope of a brighter future.
At Newcastle, Mike Ashley’s 14-and-a half-year reign, during which his relationship with the club’s supporters plumbed the depths of toxicity, came to an end in October 2021 when Amanda Staveley’s consortium, in which Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund holds an 80 per cent stake, completed its takeover.
The Magpies’ relationship with the Saudi state – the Premier League ultimately accepted assurances that it would have no control over the club before approving the deal – has inevitably prompted criticism and left some fans uncomfortable.
However, those desperate for change have been reinvigorated by injections of ambition and hard cash, but more so by the way Eddie Howe, the man appointed as head coach within weeks of the new hierarchy’s arrival, has harnessed both to such spectacular effect that short-term targets have had to be significantly recalibrated.
On the day the 45-year-old took charge in November 2021, Newcastle were entrenched in a desperate battle for top-flight survival, one they would ultimately win in some comfort.
Astute recruitment – Kieran Trippier and Nick Pope have proved genuine bargains, while a total spend in excess of £250million has also added the hugely influential Bruno Guimaraes, Sven Botman, Alexander Isak and Anthony Gordon to the mix – has bolstered a squad which had been woefully neglected.
However, it is perhaps the improvement fostered by Howe and his staff in the likes of Fabian Schar, Miguel Almiron and the unrecognisable Joelinton which has been most impressive.
On the eve of the club’s first final since 1999, the Magpies sat in fifth place in the table having lost just two of their last 24 games in all competitions, way beyond the expectations of many, and perhaps even themselves.
That United set off for Wembley two places and eight points better off than the Magpies is testament to the turnaround fostered by manager Erik ten Hag.
The former Ajax boss took the reins from Ralf Rangnick during the summer, with United having finished 35 points adrift of champions City, and with the disaffected Cristiano Ronaldo’s continued presence a festering issue.
Successive defeats by Brighton and Brentford at the start of the campaign did little to calm the storm, nor did a 6-3 derby drubbing in October.
But having dealt decisively with the Ronaldo issue – he left the club by mutual consent in November not long after giving an explosive television interview – and the stuttering form of England defender Harry Maguire, he has gradually instilled his philosophy and established a cohesion which has paid sizeable dividends.
Beaten just once in 19 games in all competitions, due in no small part to the rejuvenation of England striker Marcus Rashford, Ten Hag has revitalised his team with perfect timing.
Twenty-four years ago, United deservedly defeated Newcastle 2-0 in the FA Cup final on their way to an unprecedented Treble.
This time around, there is little to chose between the sides at their best – although Pope’s untimely suspension represents a significant blow for the Magpies – and that could make for an intriguing afternoon.