Following their impressive victory against Barcelona, Last Word On Football provides our key lessons from that tie, and what they could mean for Manchester United as they prepare for their vital Carabao Cup final clash against Newcastle United.
Manchester United Lessons to Take Into Carabao Cup Final Clash
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 24, 2023
Erik ten Hag Gets It Wrong – Then Gets It Right Again
Erik ten Hag has preferred to set Manchester United up in a 4-2-3-1 this season. However, going into Sunday’s final with Newcastle, it will once again be difficult to know which players will fill those positions. On Thursday evening, Ten Hag pushed on with his experimental and fluid front 4, which has made Manchester United tricky to break down tactically.
Unfortunately, the first half saw a lack of build-up play through the thirds, with Manchester United’s main creative threat, Bruno Fernandes, ably pinned back by Barcelona left-back Alejandro Balde for the duration of the first half. Their creative threats were suppressed by Barcelona’s smart pressing, with both Jadon Sancho and Fernandes being hurried on and off the ball.
At half-time, Ten Hag, unafraid to shake things up, shuffled his front 4 into a quicker, more dynamic set-up that proved too fast on the transition for Xavi’s men. With Sancho now on the left, Fernandes in his preferred number ten position, and Rashford playing through the middle, the side showed renewed energy, offering sharp passes and quick turns. If Newcastle get off to a quick start, it will not be a death knell for this Manchester United side as it was last season. They can simply find alternative ways to set up and regain control.
Antony Finds His Scoring Touch
Out of all the club’s big summer signings, it is Antony that still has the most to prove. Ten Hag has shown great trust in the winger, though his price tag has often proved distracting.
This is a player who is suited to Ten Hag’s aggressive off-the-ball tactical instruction while being a smart presser and an able ball carrier. However, he ranks well below new signings Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez in the hearts of Manchester United fans. Yet, a winning goal at Old Trafford could be a turning point for the young winger’s career. Although he still lacks some crucial final-third decision-making skills, he has shown he has the ability to win important matches for his team, which could be crucial for the side in the upcoming Carabao Cup final.
Fred Flatters to Deceive
It is becoming common now for Fred to begin matches horribly and end them by being voted the fan’s player of the match. Fred has been heavily relied upon since Eriksen’s injury and has met his brief with mixed success.
Although Fred finished Thursday’s match strongly; by cutting off every Barcelona passing lane, finding space for Manchester United’s counter-attacks, and offering leadership in the midfield, he will remain an enduring enigma. He is someone who is very good at winning back the ball, but equally bad at keeping it. His lack of ability to retain possession in the centre of midfield will raise questions about how he will fare on Sunday against combative players like Bruno Guimarães and Joelinton.
Incredible Centre Back Pairing
If Manchester United are to weather the attacking talent on offer for Newcastle on Sunday, their key partnership, between centre-backs Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, will need to be in lockstep. The two have blossomed together this season, contributing to the team’s astounding home record of 18 games without defeat. The complimentary styles of grace and aggression provide Manchester United with a solid platform from which to build and sustain attacks.
Can Manchester United Cope Without Marcus Rashford?
Marcus Rashford limped off as an 88th-minute substitute after yet another display of aggressive pressing and running. This season Rashford has carried the goal-scoring burden of a team that is thin on formal strikers with an impressive 24 goals in 37 appearances.
While the match against Barcelona showed that others can step up if required, Manchester United fans should be in no doubt as to the profound impact his absence could have on the overall mechanics of the side. With Newcastle going into the game without their first-choice keeper, a Rashford-less Manchester United could make the final on Sunday too close to call.