Wembley Stadium forms the backdrop for Manchester United’s bid to end a six-year trophy drought in a mouth-watering League Cup final against Newcastle United on Sunday.
On Friday Erik ten Hag’s high-flyers learned their opposition in the Europa League last-16, a day after ousting La Liga leaders Barcelona in the knockout play-off.
Following a topsy-turvy 2-2 first-leg draw at the Spotify Camp Nou, the Red Devils fought back from a 1-0 half-time deficit to beat Xavi Hernandez’s side 2-1 at Old Trafford to set up a last-16 tie against Betis.
Despite reigning supreme against one of toughest challenges in football today, Man Utd may have paid a hefty price on Thursday, with Marcus Rashford spotted limping out of the pitch late in the game.
Losing the free-scoring 25-year-old forward on the eve of the League Cup final would be a devastating blow to United’s hopes of landing a first piece of silverware since 2017.
Ten Hag took to the press in the aftermath to deliver a fitness update on his headline performer, but Man Utd fans won’t be happy to hear what the Dutchman had to say.
“I don’t know. Players are now coming in, we have to do investigations, medical, so straight after a game you can’t say, you have to wait for medical,” he said, as relayed by the Daily Express.
Sunday’s fixture will mark Manchester United’s tenth foray into the League Cup showpiece, though it’s worth noting they’ve experienced mixed fortunes across their nine previous appearances in the final (W5, L4).
Despite United winning two of their last three League Cup encounters against Newcastle (L1), this will be their first meeting in the tournament since a 2-1 home triumph in 2012.
The sides most recently locked horns in a closely-contested 0-0 Premier League draw at Old Trafford in October, extending the Red Devils’ unbeaten H2H run to six games (W4, D2).
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe faces a dilemma ahead of the club’s first appearances in the League Cup final since a runner-up finish in the 1975/76 season.
First-choice goalkeeper Nick Pope picked up a red card against Liverpool at St James’ Park after a poorly-timed challenge on Mohamed Salah last week, while his deputy Martin Dubravka is cup-tied.
It means Howe can either play former Anfield scapegoat Loris Karius or hand the 18-year-old homegrown starlet Max Thompson a surprise call-up for the biggest test of his managerial career, per SPORTbible.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David de Gea; Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw; Casemiro, Fred; Antony, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho; Wout Weghorst.
Newcastle United (4-3-3): Max Thompson; Kieran Trippier, Fabian Schar, Sven Botman, Dan Burn; Joelinton, Sean Longstaff, Joe Willock; Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron, Alexander Isak.
A three-game winless run in the Premier League (D2, L1) is hardly a good way to prepare for a rare opportunity to win the trophy, but Newcastle could still be a menace.
To defy the odds on Sunday, the Magpies would have to arrest a dreadful run of eight consecutive defeats at Wembley, a run spanning back to the 1955 FA Cup triumph.
So Manchester United should be in a prime position to win their first trophy after Jose Mourinho’s double in 2017, even if they have to do it without talismanic Rashford.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Newcastle United