Reds' Wembley opponents suffer suspension blow

Sunday 19 February 2023 10:19

Manchester United’s Carabao Cup final opponents will be without their first-choice goalkeeper after Nick Pope was dramatically sent off for Newcastle United during Saturday’s 2-0 Premier League defeat to Liverpool.

Pope rushed out of his penalty area to close down the onrushing Mohamed Salah, who had sprinted clear of the Magpies' defence midway through the first half. As he fell, the keeper instinctively grabbed the ball with two hands and was therefore shown the red card in the 22nd minute with his team already 2-0 down. 

Newcastle sacrificed outfield player Elliot Anderson to bring on substitute stopper Martin Dubravka, a name that will be familiar to Reds fans after his loan spell at Old Trafford earlier this season.

Dubravka made four appearances as understudy to David De Gea during the first half of the season, two of which came in our brilliant run to next Sunday's final at Wembley.
Pope kept out Marcus Rashford and co in our 0-0 draw with Newcastle earlier this season.
Dubravka racked up 90 minutes in both the 4-2 win over Aston Villa and the 1-0 victory over Burnley before heading back to St. James’ Park. This means he is now cup-tied and cannot play in the final for Newcastle. Remarkably, he will only receive a winners’ medal if we win the game. 

Magpies manager Eddie Howe must therefore look down the ranks for the Wembley showdown. He has former Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius or ex-Motherwell star Mark Gillespie at his disposal, two players who have yet to feature for Newcastle this season.

Long-time servant Karl Darlow would usually be in contention, but he is currently on loan at mid-table Championship outfit Hull City, and cannot be recalled for the match. Darlow had an impressive spell as Newcastle’s first-choice goalkeeper during their 2016/17 promotion run to the Premier League, but Dubravka’s arrival in 2018 ousted him from regularly being picked.
It will therefore come down to Karius or Gillespie as Howe aims to land Newcastle’s first major trophy since 1955.

"They are our options," Howe told Sky Sports after Saturday evening's defeat to Liverpool.

"They have started games away from competitive action, several friendlies and training games. I would say they are both match ready. I know everyone here won't have seen how well they have trained, but they are both very competitive and have been part of the group all season."

The prospect of Karius making his competitive debut for Newcastle in a cup final is quite the storyline, considering his history with English clubs. Karius’ last outing for Liverpool came in the 2018 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid, a match in which he made two major mistakes as the Spanish giants secured a 3-1 triumph.
Karius in action for Liverpool against United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the 2016/17 season.

Karius left the pitch in tears that day and never played for Liverpool again. The Merseyside club loaned him to Besiktas and Union Berlin before releasing him last September. It is two years since he played a competitive match, with his last appearance coming in Union Berlin’s 1-1 draw with Hoffenheim back in February 2021. If picked, Karius will certainly be out to positively impact his reputation after a troubled few years.

Gillespie is the lesser known name, and perhaps the pick who wouldn’t drum up quite as many headlines for Howe’s team. He is also a hometown lad and has three previous Carabao Cup appearances for Newcastle, all of which came during the 2020/21 campaign.

Despite his goalkeeping dilemma, Howe will be boosted by the return of midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, who will slot straight back into the team after serving a three-match ban for his red card in the second leg of the semi-final against Southampton. Newcastle have struggled without the Brazilian, drawing two and losing once since he received his marching orders.

Howe has impressed as Newcastle boss, leading them into the Premier League's top four.
For Erik ten Hag’s Reds, the mission is clear no matter who starts in goal for our opponents: deliver our first piece of silverware since lifting the Europa League trophy aloft in May 2017. The Carabao Cup final comes amidst a breathless run that sees us battling for success across four fronts and playing multiple matches per week.

It’s an exciting moment for our fans, with Barcelona’s trip to Old Trafford also on the horizon before a ball is even kicked on the Wembley turf. Thursday’s Europa League second leg is set to serve up an epic conclusion to the thrilling 2-2 draw in the Camp Nou last week, a match which saw both teams play with boundless energy and focus on attack. 

It’s a measure of Ten Hag’s impact that games of this magnitude are being crammed into the schedule, but now the final step is to etch the club’s name into the history books once more, starting with the Carabao Cup.

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