Manchester United – Newcastle United: Manchester United Victorious In Unspectacular Final (2-0)
Erik ten Hag’s side were not at their stylish best here, but they gave a solid enough defensive performance to get the job done against Newcastle United. First half goals from Casemiro and Marcus Rashford allowed Manchester United to sit back and soak up pressure for the rest of the game as they eased to their first trophy of the Ten Hag era.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
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Manchester United gave the latest example of their impressive development this season under Erik Ten Hag on Thursday as they knocked La Liga leaders Barcelona out of the Europa League. Three days later, they had the chance to pick up silverware at Wembley.
Manchester United lined up in their 4-2-3-1 system for this game, with a back four of Diogo Dalot, Raphaël Varane, Lisandro Martínez, and Luke Shaw. Casemiro and Fred partnered in central midfield once again, while Bruno Fernandes returned to a number ten role after his recent right-sided excursions. Antony and Marcus Rashford were the two wingers, with Wout Weghorst starting up front.
This game was also a huge opportunity for Newcastle United to win their first major domestic trophy in almost seventy years. Eddie Howe’s side have made strides in the Premier League this season on the back of heavy outside investment, and an EFL Cup win would serve as a good milestone for the team’s development.
Newcastle lined up with a 4-3-3 shape here, with Kieran Trippier, Fabian Schär, Sven Botman, and Dan Burn in defense. Bruno Guimarães was the number six with Sean Longstaff and Joelinton either side of him, while the front three was comprised of Miguel Almirón, Callum Wilson, and Allan Saint-Maximin.
Manchester United strike without warning
The first half saw Newcastle have more of the ball than they might have expected early on, as Manchester United did not have the quickest of starts, and did not focus too much on possession of the ball throughout.
Manchester United were actually rather direct for much of the game. They sought quick transitions when they gained the ball, looking to release Rashford in behind Trippier or for the long passes towards Weghorst. This meant that their possession phases were quite short usually, and Newcastle were able to regain the ball.
Newcastle built up with some slight asymmetries from their starting 4-3-3 shape. Trippier on the right side was quite active in pushing forward as a key part of their attack, while Burn on the left was more reserved and would often stay closer to the center-backs. The wingers behaved accordingly, with Almirón tucking into the right halfspace and Saint-Maximin providing width on the left.
Manchester United did not mind playing without the ball for much of this game.
Saint-Maximin was a key part of Newcastle’s attack, and they often looked to get the ball to him quickly for isolation situations against Dalot on the right side. These situations were difficult for Dalot to deal with, especially since he had picked up a booking early in the match.
In midfield, United were once again man-oriented. Fernandes would generally mark Guimarães, while Longstaff and Joelinton were marshalled by Fred and Casemiro respectively. Guimarães was generally the deepest midfielder, and Longstaff often started alongside him before making runs from deep when attacks were more advanced.
Joelinton meanwhile played an advanced role in the left halfspace in support of Wilson up front. Casemiro did well to strike a balance between marking Joelinton in these positions but also controlling the spaces in front of the backline.
Despite some promising advances from Newcastle in this arrangement, especially down the right with Trippier’s overlapping, it was Manchester United who took the lead just after half an hour when Casemiro met Shaw’s excellent delivery from a wide free-kick and found the net with a glancing header.
Just over five minutes later, United added a second goal thanks to Rashford’s deflected effort which evaded Loris Karius’ grasp. So, despite not threatening too much for a lot of the first half, Manchester United had suddenly found themselves 2-0 up at the break.
Ten Hag closes the game
Both sides made personnel changes at half time in response to the situation the game was in. Ten Hag made a change to strengthen Manchester United’s defense, bringing Aaron Wan-Bissaka on for Dalot. This was a move that made a lot of sense, given Wan-Bissaka’s expertise in defending one-versus-one situations and the threat that Saint-Maximin presented on that side for Newcastle. The booking for Dalot will also have played a part in this decision.
For Newcastle, Howe made an attacking change as they needed to chase the game. Alexander Isak replaced Longstaff, meaning that Newcastle went to a 4-4-2 shape with Joelinton staying in midfield alongside Guimarães, and Isak joining Wilson up front.
Along with the change in shape for Newcastle, there was also a slight change in Manchester United’s defensive scheme. They now took more of a 4-1-4-1 shape, defending relatively deep for most of the rest of the game. Fred and Fernandes would mark Guimarães and Joelinton respectively, while Casemiro was then freed to patrol the space in front of the defense without a direct opponent.
This was a role which Casemiro thrived in for the remainder of the half, able to shut out danger in front of Manchester United’s penalty box, which was especially useful now that Newcastle now essentially had four attackers up against Manchester United’s defensive line.
Ten Hag decided to add further defensive security with twenty minutes remaining as Scott McTominay and Marcel Sabitzer were introduced in place of Fred and Weghorst. This saw Fernandes move out to the left side and Rashford up front, while McTominay and Sabitzer were now the central midfielders in front of Casemiro in the 4-1-4-1 defensive shape.
These changes for United further suffocated the Newcastle attack, who struggled to move the ball through the center against United’s hard-working midfield. Varane and Martínez at the back were also excellent when required, as United continued to soak up pressure in their deeper defensive shape. In the end, United were more than capable of repelling the attacks that Newcastle threw with increasing desperation, and ended the game with a clean sheet.
Manchester United did not give their best performance in this game but did enough to win. The team still has some development to go in order to play the dominant football than Ten Hag will be working towards, but they have developed a habit of getting tight games to swing their way thanks to their exceptional defensive spine of Varane, Martínez, and Casemiro, plus the clinical streak of finishing that Rashford has found himself on recently.
Newcastle are another team who have impressed this season but are surely not at their final destination in terms of the team’s development. They started the game fairly well but looked a bit devoid of ideas once United took the lead and locked the game down with their organized defending.
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