The moments that won the Cup final

Cup finals are all about moments

For all the buzz they create in the build-up, the games themselves tend to be cagey. No player wants a high-profile blunder on their record, just ask Loris Karius. 

If the moments go your way, the final will swing in your favour and the cup will be yours. The opposite is also painfully true, as Newcastle United found out. 

Here is a run down of how Manchester United beat away a stern and well-backed Newcastle United to win their first trophy under Erik Ten Hag – their first in six seasons. 

Moment 1 – Martinez’ block on Schär – 26′

It was a back-and-forth start to the final with few chances. Newcastle’s towering centre-back Fabian Schar broke the pressing line and marauded through to midfield. Here, he passed it out wide to Almiron, who slotted in wing-back Kieran Tripper. The Manchester-born Newcastle captain, who had a busy game, played a spectacular cross into Schar’s path. 

The ball lingered at the perfect height for Schar as he barrelled through to meet it. The only thing stopping him was the tenacious Argentine Lisandro Martinez. He didn’t reach the ball, but bravely did enough to stop Schar from connecting, and got a whack on the head for his troubles. Martinez’ goal-saving block meant he spent the rest of the final with a red stain in his bleached blonde hair. 

Moment 2 – Casemiro’s opening goal – 33′

The Red Devils seemed in control. Bruno Guimeraes gave away a needless foul in prime-Luke Shaw territory – a few yards out to the left of the box, perfect for an in-swinging cross. Up stepped the United veteran of nine seasons to put in a peach of a cross which was met by Casemiro. 

Luke Shaw and Casemiro also linked up for United’s late equaliser at Stamford Bridge in October. 

Offside lines were drawn by VAR, but the goal stood – and the Manchester United fans were given a second chance to celebrate a crucial moment in the game. Newcastle had scored only four goals in their previous six matches. United knew an early goal was crucial and they had bagged it. 

Moment 3 – Rashford’s attacking instinct – 39′

With United firmly in charge of the tie, they were seeking a second. A loose ball fell to Rashford, who chomped down on it into the path of Weghorst. It was here that Rashford’s predatory instincts kicked in. Within six seconds, a ball in midfield has ended up in the back of the net.

38:21 – Weghorst pics up the loose ball and drives forward – Rashford begins his sprint from behind the Dutchman.
38:23 – Rashford knows he is favourite for the ball. He has made up two yards in as many seconds and is level with his teammate.
38:25 – Rashford is through on goal on his weaker left foot.

The Manchester-native knew that he could outpace his markers and cause havoc. Weghorst carried the ball over ten yards before playing in the England forward. His scuffed shot was deflected over the ‘keeper and in. The score line read 2-0 to United and it was potentially game over before half time. 

Moment 4 – Antony sambas around his markers – 45+5′

Manchester United were clearly beginning to frustrate the Newcastle players. At the end of the first half, midfielder Joelinton snapped. Antony was repeatedly beating Dan Burn on the right wing – his Newcatsle teammate first clattered into Antony, then yanked back Casemiro from around his neck to earn himself a deserved booking. Erik Ten Hag could well have seen this as the point where United won the final, though there were still 45 minutes to play. 

Antony was substituted late on in the game. He was a constant source of danger for United and appeared to show he is a big-game player.

Moment 5 – Wan Bissaka’s coming of age – 58′

Aaron Wan Bissaka replaced a carded Diogo Dalot at half time. Dalot had spent a lot of the first half working hard to keep Newcastle’s danger man, Allan Saint-Maximin, quiet. 

Minutes after making a fair, crunching tackle on Allan Saint Maximin, Wan Bissaka made two crucial defensive decisions, getting them both spot on. 

Famed for his prodigious tackling, the full-back opted out of a potentially reckless challenge in the box. Indeed, Saint-Maximin has enough flair to turn a seemingly safe tackle into a stonewall foul and penalty. 
Moments later, Saint-Maximin cuts inside to take a shot with his powerful right foot. Wan Bissaka (seen behind Casemiro) notes the immediate threat and takes decisive action. 

Credit must go firstly to Erik Ten Hag and secondly to the player himself for his obvious improvement over this season. His introduction at half time was crucial for the comfort of the win. Had another manager been in charge, would this change have been made? 

Moment 6 – De Gea’s rare booking

One final blow for a defeated Newcastle was The Red Devils’s obvious and well-orchestrated time-wasting towards the closing stages. Ironically, Erik Ten Hag made it clear in his pre-match press conference that he knew about Newcastle’s game-management strategies. 

In his pre-match press conference, Ten Hag said:

“The referees want to play effective time. (Newcastle) have the lowest in the league and they are quite successful with it. So, it’s up to us that we get speed in the game but also we are then dependent on the refereeing as well.”

Ironically, it was Ten Hag’s United who ended the tie with time-wasting at the fore. De Gea picked up a uncharacteristic booking in the 87th minute. This was the final key moment in an intriguing and well-fought final. 

This was only the 10th time De Gea has been booked in his 600+ game, 14-year senior career. He has also never been sent off.

Final thoughts

Manchester United eventually lifted the 2023 Carabao Cup to the cheers of adoring fans at Wembley. They had not tasted silverware for six long seasons.

Erik ten Hag’s reign at Old Trafford got off to an unspectacular start, with back-to-back league defeats vs. Brentford and Brighton. But now, as United target yet more trophies this season, it has become clear that his United mean business.

There is a discipline, a deep pool of quality and a collective understanding of roles, standards and values at Old Trafford that has not been there since the Sir Alex Ferguson days. Yes, United have won trophies since then, but the club has not looked this well-ran in a decade or more. Neither Mourinho, nor Van Gaal, the two managers who delivered silverware at Manchester United post-Fergie, could boast a team as well-drilled, as happy or as exciting as what Ten Hag has at this moment. Next up for United is a home tie vs. West Ham in the FA Cup. After that is a trip to Anfield to face a flaky Liverpool side. The games cannot come quickly enough for the Red Devils.

Author: Sam Talbot