London, February 27, 2023 — With a first trophy secured, thoughts now turn to what else a transformed Manchester United can achieve in a season that is shaping up nicely for manager Erik ten Hag.
While a quadruple remains unlikely, United’s four-pronged challenge is still alive after beating Newcastle 2-0 in the League Cup final on Sunday.
“We are still in three competitions and we have the chance to win more trophies,” United goalkeeper David de Gea said. “I feel the mentality of the team is a winning one.”
For a team that had become all too accustomed to failure in recent years, it is quickly getting a taste for success after the impressive turnaround overseen by Ten Hag.
“I am satisfied but I want more. I want much more,” said United captain Bruno Fernandes, who led the celebrations on the field at Wembley.
Ten Hag needed just 10 months to deliver his first trophy as United manager and end a six-year silverware drought for the 20-time English champion. It is United’s first trophy since winning a League Cup and Europa League double under Jose Mourinho in 2017.
As trophies go, the League Cup is a modest prize for a club that won it all under iconic former manager Alex Ferguson. But this was a triumph that was relished by thousands of United fans inside the stadium after Casemiro’s header and Sven Botman’s own-goal settled the match.
“First you have to win the first one and that is what we did today,” Ten Hag said. “You can get inspiration from this and more confidence that we can do it.
“We are still at the start of restoring Manchester United to where they belong and that is to be winning trophies.”
Ten Hag celebrated by dancing on the field with players Lisandro Martinez and Antony, who followed him from Ajax to Manchester last summer. And he lovingly cradled the cup when emerging for his post-match news conference.
However, as if to underline the fact that he is not getting carried away with his early success, he initially forgot the trophy as he got up to leave the room before quickly retrieving it.
“I’m already on to the next cup! This one is in!” he joked.
Few expected United to be in such a healthy position at this stage of the season — especially after losing the first two games of the campaign, which included the humiliating 4-0 loss at Brentford in August.
Ten Hag, who won three Dutch titles and two cups with Ajax, is off the mark in his new job and there could be more days like this before the season is done.
Third-place United is in contention for the Premier League title and on Thursday beat Barcelona in the Europa League to advance to the round of 16 against Real Betis. Next up is West Ham in the FA Cup in the fifth round, with league leader Arsenal and holder Liverpool already eliminated.
While a sustained title challenge still feels like a step too far for a team that finished 35 points behind champions Manchester City last season, United cannot be ruled out.
“It’s an opportunity, it’s possible,” Ten Hag said of the pursuit for more silverware. “As long as we don’t go over the top, togetherness, keep working, then we can win even more.”
Ten Hag has certainly made believers of the club’s fans, who let off flares that left a red mist inside Wembley after the final whistle.
Co-owner Avram Glazer also enjoyed the occasion when making a rare appearance at a United match at time when the club is the subject of takeover bids.
Ferguson was also part of the celebrations in the stands.
“He was there and he is a happy man tonight,” Ten Hag said.
Casemiro headed United in front in the 33rd minute of the final when rising to meet Luke Shaw’s curled free kick.
For a man who has won it all with Real Madrid, including five Champions League titles, Casemiro’s delight at opening the scoring at Wembley was clear to see as he ran to the corner to celebrate with a broad smile on his face.
Botman’s own-goal made it 2-0 in the 39th after Wout Weghorst played in Rashford on the left. The in-form forward miscued his shot, but Botman’s attempted block saw the ball fly beyond Newcastle goalkeeper Loris Karius. Rashford ran away in celebration, but it was adjudged to be an own-goal.
The Saudi Arabian-backed Newcastle mounted a fightback in the second half, but could not find a breakthrough goal, with De Gea keeping a club record 181st clean sheet for United.
For Newcastle, the wait for a first major domestic trophy since the FA Cup in 1955 goes on.
While it can still be a season of celebration if manager Eddie Howe can deliver Champions League qualification, he acknowledged there remains a gap for his team to close.
“It is a process, we want to be here on a regular basis,” Howe said. “There is a long way to go to be the team we want to be.”
Graham Potter is said to have the full support of Chelsea’s owners, but it is impossible to ignore his team’s woeful run of form, which continued with a 2-0 loss to fourth-place Tottenham in the only Premier League game on Sunday.
It is now six games without a win for the Blues, who were Champions League winners as recently as 2021.
That feels like a long time ago now, and thoughts of returning to those heights also seem like a distant dream for a team that looks certain to miss out on Champions League qualification and is fighting just to stay in the top half of the table.
“You can feel the desire of the players to turn results around, but sometimes you go through moments where you have to suffer,” Potter said.
Defeat was even more painful as it came against fierce London rivals Spurs, who can dream about playing in the top tier of European soccer next season after moving four points ahead of Newcastle.
Second-half goals from Oliver Skipp and Harry Kane sealed the win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. – AP