Big Weekend: Carabao Cup final, Loris Karius, Leeds United, David Moyes, Jimmy Hill derby
It’s a far bigger weekend than Loris Karius was expecting as he prepares to make his debut in Newcastle’s biggest game in years. Also: the bottom two meet as Leeds welcome Javi Gracia…
Game to watch – Manchester United v Newcastle United
The most eagerly anticipated League Cup final in a decade? We think so…
Certainly on Tyneside it is. Newcastle’s first trip to Wembley in almost 23 years represents their biggest game since the last time they were there. The Magpies have never yet been to the national stadium since it was rebuilt. Which is ludicrous for a club of their size. Even more damning: they are looking for their first major trophy in 68 years.
So Newcastle can be forgiven for having had one eye on Wembley since they saw off Southampton in the semi-final at the end of last month. They are three games without a win, having drawn with relegation-threatened West Ham and Bournemouth before losing 2-0 to Liverpool last week.
The defeat to Jurgen Klopp’s beleaguered Reds was galling enough without the red card that leaves Eddie Howe without his first-choice goalkeeper. More on that catastrof*** shortly.
In contrast, Manchester United have been flying of late and go to Wembley in chipper mood. And the importance of this final to them shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Red Devils, by their standards, are enduring a trophy drought of their own, with the Europa League that formed part of the most Mickey Mouse of Trebles being the last pot they won when Jose Mourinho was still in charge. Of Erik ten Hag’s squad, only Marcus Rashford, David De Gea, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial have lifted a trophy as a United player.
Ten Hag has done an incredible job since taking over a sorry mess of a squad last summer, but like every United manager, he will be judged on honours won. To get the first under his belt at the earliest possible opportunity ought to inspire the Red Devils to maintain their push on every other front through the remainder of the season.
So, for the first time perhaps in a decade, since 2013 when Swansea and Bradford had a big day out, this Carabao Cup final really matters to both finalists.
READ MORE: Four managers who showed Ten Hag and Howe how to build dynasties on League Cup as first trophy
Player to watch – Loris Karius
Being at St James’ Park last Saturday when Newcastle were given their send off and Nick Pope was sent off was an odd experience. The Toon keeper misjudged a long pass downfield from Alisson, which he handled instead of headed, and as soon as the red card was brandished, the ramifications dawned on the home supporters.
‘He’ll miss the final… Wait, isn’t Martin Dubravka cup-tied?… Where’s Karl Darlow? Hull?!… We can’t recall him?… f***!’
So Newcastle must put the security of their goal in the oft-careless hands of Loris Karius, the German kept around at St James’ Park on six-month contracts with the primary purpose of serving volleys and brews to the keepers above him in the pecking order.
It’s a huge ask of Karius, who will make his debut for the club in their biggest game for a generation. Indeed, it will be two days short of two years since he last played a competitive game for anyone.
Karius’s career hit the skids after the last cup final he played in, the Champions League final in 2018 when the world watched the keeper crumble before their eyes.
Newcastle fans might be reeling from the prospect of Karius minding their net on their big day, but the glass half-full ending at Wembley could form the basis of an incredible redemption story, winning the cup for Newcastle while dismaying the Manchester United fans who, five years later, still haven’t stopped laughing at him.
Manager to watch – David Moyes
Rafael Benitez will certainly be watching Moyes since he could be taking his job next week if West Ham are turned over by Nottingham Forest at the London Stadium on Saturday.
Whether or not those reports are true, it’s a ludicrous way to decide a manager’s future and run a football club. Moyes will be no more the right or wrong man for the job if they win or lose 1-0 this weekend.
But you would understand the panic at the London Stadium if West Ham fail to pick up only a second win in 12 games. In that time, they’ve beaten only Frank Lampard’s Everton and currently sit 18th in the Premier League table.
That said, the Irons could climb to 15th if they defeat Forest and they are currently only eight points behind 11th-placed Aston Villa. Their predicament is far from perilous and Moyes has form for getting the Hammers out of the mire.
But there is a sense, from Moyes and the supporters, that both parties are tiring of the relationship. The second time around, it’s been three years and perhaps the players are zoning out too. Another stale performance and underwhelming result could prompt a fresh voice. As ever, the manager’s fate appears to rest in his player’s hands.
Javi Gracia is better than ‘better than nothing’ for Leeds | West Ham and Moyes should stay in this marriage of convenience for now
Team to watch – Leeds United
Leeds’ fans certainly grew weary of Jesse Marsch and the American’s relentless positivity, so grating because it belied what the supporters were seeing on the pitch. The decision to axe Marsch was easy to understand; their failure to have a replacement lined up far less so.
Belatedly, they found a successor this week in ex-Watford boss Javi Gracia. The Spaniard is on the back foot somewhat because it is clear he wasn’t Leeds’ first, second or even third choice. But the general consensus from those who have seen Gracia up close is that the Yorkshiremen have fallen on their feet somewhat.
The Leeds board certainly need to hope that’s true because they are banking on the new manager to dig them out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves and the club. After a dire performance in the defeat at Everton last week, there was renewed impetus to find a manager – almost any manager – before the visit of Southampton on Saturday for a battle between the Premier League’s bottom two teams.
How much impact can Gracia have before Saints show up? It’s hard to say. As it stands, we don’t know for sure that he will be allowed to stand on the touchline until his work permit arrives. Perhaps just his appointment will be enough to provoke a new manager bounce among a set of players, many of whom signed for Leeds to play for Marsch. If not, Leeds will be rock-bottom by 5pm on Saturday.
EFL game to watch – Coventry v Sunderland
The Sky Blues and Black Cats both have Championship play-off ambitions but there’s more to Saturday lunchtime’s meeting at the Coventry Building Society Arena.
A weird 46-year rivalry exists between these two sides, one with Jimmy Hill at the heart of it. Let us explain…
READ MORE: How Jimmy Hill chinned Sunderland and sparked a rivalry
European game to watch – Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid
Real enhanced their English following outside the red half of Merseyside this week and those fans who are still revelling in their demolition of Liverpool on Tuesday can see Carlo Ancelotti’s side in derby action on Saturday evening.
The European champions fought back at Anfield and they must do the same in La Liga, where they trail Barcelona by eight points. They host Atletico, who are fourth but 10 points off their Madrid neighbours.
It’s a biggie in Germany too, with Bayern Munich hosting Union Berlin on Sunday afternoon. Both sides, first and third respectively, are level on points, sandwiching Borussia Dortmund, who face struggling Hoffenheim on Saturday.