'Sunday is a huge game of football for Newcastle'

Saturday 25 February 2023 12:07

Excitement is set to remain at stratospheric levels after our stunning 2-1 win over Barcelona on Thursday night, with the Carabao Cup final against Newcastle United following just three days later.

But amid all the giddiness, it's perhaps easy for Reds to forget that the expectation levels among our opponents on Sunday are possibly even higher.

Eddie Howe's rapidly improving team have ignited the whole of Newcastle this season, and this is a chance for the Geordies to end their long and painful wait for a major trophy.

We caught up with home-and-away Newcastle United fan Dave Smith to get some insight on the mood in his home city, how crucial Nick Pope's suspension might be at Wembley, and where the game might be won and lost...
Dave Smith with his daughter Grace at St. James' Park.

It’s well publicised that Newcastle have not won a major domestic trophy since 1955 – how much does this cup final mean to all your fans? And what has the mood been like in the city and among the fanbase since you progressed to the final?

“At full-time of the Southampton [semi-final] game it was euphoric, and once it was confirmed that Bruno [Guimaraes] was able to play despite getting that red card. But then [Nick] Pope gets that red card [against Liverpool] on Saturday… Prior to that, everyone was buzzing, but Nick Pope getting sent off has just tempered that. We’re still buzzing about it, obviously – it’s only our second-ever League Cup final. It’s a huge game of football. It just so happens that we’re playing probably the most in-form side in Europe, which is just typical! But we’re buzzing for it, and on Saturday and Sunday it will be a huge atmosphere in London. We’ve only played at the new Wembley for a league game against Tottenham! And if we managed to win, it would just be unbelievable for us.”

There’s been a lot made of that Pope suspension in the last week – why is it so important?
“I’d argue he’s been one of the top three goalkeepers in the league this season, and we’ve conceded the fewest goals in the league. We’re going to have to play a goalkeeper that hasn’t played a game for two years [Loris Karius], so that could go one of two ways: he could have a nightmare or it could be fairytale stuff.”

Rumours suggest the whole of Newcastle will be travelling to the capital for this match. Will Manchester United be outnumbered in London, if not inside the ground?
“It’s our first final since the 1999 FA Cup final. Our second League Cup final – we got beat by Man City in the other one [in 1976]. We got beat by an overhead kick from a Geordie in that one! Ridiculous. There’ll be loads go down. I know of at least 10-15 in my friendship group who are going without tickets. There’ll be tens of thousands in Trafalgar Square on the Saturday night. That’s what the craic is: they’ll hang around there. To me, London is a great city with loads of great pubs and bars, so why would you stand outside in the freezing cold in February?! But each to their own. We’re going down Saturday afternoon. We booked our hotel as soon as Man City got knocked out, because it was cancellable. And I’m getting the train back up on Monday.”
Newcastle have a great chance of qualifying for the Champions League – would you rather win the League Cup and get that trophy or finish in the top four?
“Me, personally, I want to win a trophy. I get it: being in the Champions League would be great for finances and whatever, but I don’t think that’s in the plan of the owners at this stage. I think we’re ahead of where we should be. If you look, we’ve got certain players in our squad who are not up to Champions League football. I had this conversation with the lad I sit next to at St James’s Park last weekend: who, out of our starting XI, is a Champions League footballer? Probably [Sven] Botman, [Bruno] Guimaraes, Joelinton could do a job, and then you’re struggling after that. I don’t think we’re ready for that. Obviously if it happens, great, but I want to win a trophy first and then worry about the league after that.”

Ten Hag sets out United's road to success


The boss is still keen to look forward to our future endeavours, despite Sunday's upcoming final against Newcastle.

What do Newcastle fans make of Manchester United under Erik ten Hag this season?
“I think there’s always a narrative with United in the media that draws things out of proportion. Even last season you only finished sixth, though I know that’s relatively poor compared to the standards you’ve set in the past! But I watch them a lot more now because my girlfriend is a United fan, and six or seven weeks ago she was telling me Ten Hag is a genius! From what I’ve seen, I think three things have helped United improve: moving Fernandes to the right of midfield gives him loads of time and space; Rashford being back on form and being able to play more up front; also I think having proper centre-halves, Varane and Martinez, who can play with the ball. And it’s benefitted both of our sides that Chelsea and Liverpool have had a stinker so far too, hasn’t it?”
Which Newcastle players should MUFC fans be wary of? And why do you think your results have dwindled a little bit in recent weeks?
“They have [dwindled]. But if you take each game in isolation, we’ve not been too bad. We battered Leeds at home and couldn’t score against them. As you saw at your place the other week, they can be difficult to play against. We battered Palace and couldn’t score against them. We did play poorly at Bournemouth. But we’re still creating the chances. We even played well with 10 men against Liverpool. But I think Bruno has got to play well for us. The two others who have got to have a good game are [Kieran] Tripper and Dan Burn, because I think your threat always comes in the space between the centre-halves and the full-backs. Joelinton is a seven out of 10 every single week. He’s dynamic, he wins the ball, he turns the ball over. [Sean] Longstaff is the same. But really, our back four has to have a good game and be watertight, like it was at the start of the season. We have to stay in the game for 60-70 minutes and see if we can do something.”
90 in 20: United v Barcelona Video

90 in 20: United v Barcelona

90 in 20 | Our extended highlights are now available to watch, if you can handle the tension all over again…

And which United players concern you most?
“Obviously we’ve got to keep Rashford quiet. I think Eriksen getting injured wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to you. I think he’s somebody that we might have identified as a weak link, in terms of physicality, stamina. Taking him out and putting Fred in – he’s dynamic, has a lot of pace, and he’s been great in European games. We’ve got to keep Rashford quiet, Fernandes quiet… it’s a hard game for us! The game at Old Trafford, we had a good share of the game, but Ronaldo was up front then. The whole dynamic of your team has changed since then. When you took him off and put Rashford up top in that match, the game changed completely. Rashford missed a sitter and Fred missed a sitter. We hardly featured after Rashford had come on.”
Predict the result of the game...
“I want to be honest: I think Man United will win. I think both of our sides are evenly matched. Look at that Leicester game last week. They played really well, had two mega chances, De Gea made some good saves, but Rashford would have scored both of their chances. You have someone who puts the ball in the net. And we don’t have that dynamism that he brings to you. If we play as we did at the start of the season, we’ll give you a really good game, but I think it’s just a year or two too soon in our development.”

That’s a very rational prediction – what does your heart say?!
“My heart says our best chance is to score first, because only Liverpool and West Ham have taken any points off us this season when we’ve scored first. If we score first, we can win the game. And if i’m dead honest, I think we’ll get chances. I think you allow chances to be created against you. If you take your last five or six games, most of those sides will have come away thinking: we could have won. Leeds, Leicester and Barcelona would probably think they created enough. We have to hope we create those chances and put them away when we get the chance.”