Another ten Hag Masterclass Leads Manchester United to Win Carabao Cup

How soon is too soon to say that the Manchester United of old — the Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United, the Manchester United that was the biggest football club in the world — is back for good? After last week’s convincing Carabao Cup final victory over Newcastle, things are looking as good as ever for United. And yes, that’s despite the team’s recent 7-0 loss to Liverpool on Mar. 5th. The “Red Devils” appear primed for future success and trophy contention. 

Who is responsible for the change? Erik ten Hag. The United manager, who comes from Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola coaching tree, took a major step up when he took the lead role at Manchester United last April. While many analysts agreed he deserved a new challenge after continued success with Dutch powerhouse Ajax, some wondered if this challenge was too much for the relatively untested manager.

Well over halfway into the season, ten Hag has proven doubters wrong and made the Manchester United front office look very smart. His shrewd signings, incredible tactics and brilliant man-managing skills have rallied the team together to create a formidable unit that is sitting pretty in third place in the Premier League.

The Carabao cup final was a masterclass that put the rest of the league on notice — if they weren’t already. Newcastle has been a formidable side in the top flight of English football, only losing three times in the Premier League all season. Eddie Howe (and a little Saudi Arabian cash) has transformed a once-middling side into a top-four challenger in almost one year. So how did Manchester United make their win look so comfortable?

The beginning of the game seemed quite even. A big save from Manchester’s David de Gea kept the score 0-0. But in football, missed opportunities typically come back to haunt you, and that’s exactly what happened to Newcastle. It was only two minutes later that United’s Marcus Rashford won a free kick from the left-hand side of the field. Casemiro would then convert a Luke Shaw cross past Loris Karius and into the back of the net.

Casemiro has been one of ten Hag’s most influential signings and has a strong argument for player of the year. Casemiro was thought to be old, out of shape and over the hill, so not many knew what to expect when the news broke that United had quietly gone out and bought him from Real Madrid. Now, not even a full season later, Casemiro is anchoring a once-chaotic United midfield and consistently sweeping up any danger that threatens the United goal. His presence was sorely missed on the United team when he was suspended for three games, further cementing his value. As a defensive-minded midfielder, popping up with clutch goals such as this one is not an expectation but a bonus. Credit must be given to ten Hag for this acquisition.

The second goal of the game came moments later. With Rashford running beyond the defense, a deflection off of a Newcastle defender made him the beneficiary of a second tally on the scoreboard. Rashford’s fine form has continued since the conclusion of the World Cup.

For a man once thought to be on his way out of the club, ten Hag has revitalized Rashford back to the top of his game. It seems as if Rashford will score almost at will in every game he has been playing. By combining with Bruno Fernandes and the hold-up game of Wout Weghorst, he has lately thrived on the pitch. As one of the fastest players in English football, the game plan is quite simple. Give Rashford the ball with space in behind and let him run at defenders all day long. Everyone knows it’s coming, but trying to stop a Marcus Rashford brimming with confidence is like trying to get in front of a runaway train.

From that point on, United dominated the game. High energy and quality possession meant Newcastle hardly threatened the lead. United seemed poised to make the scoreline much worse than the final score of 2-0.

After four different permanent managers in the post-Fergie era, ten Hag has brought organization and purpose back to the United team. Something feels different about this club that has been missing over the last ten years. The passion and “never say die” attitude that defined so much of the Ferguson teams may not be back in the same manner, but you can tell the team and its fans are starting to believe in a way they haven’t for a long time.

After every tackle, it’s the almost painful-looking chest bumps from Lisandro Martinez. It’s the scream of pride from Casemiro. It’s the constant organization from Bruno Fernandes. This United team looks, well, united. It’s a stark contrast from the Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba dust-ups in the media or the “I don’t care” attitude from Cristiano Ronaldo. There is no more throwing hands in the air. No more shouting matches from across the pitch. All that is evident in ten Hag’s iteration of this United team is the desire to win and play for more than the individual – for the team and the badge.