Man Utd had an unsung hero to thank as they held on to defeat Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final.
Manchester United had an unsung hero to thank for their Carabao Cup final victory over Newcastle.
If there was one underlying theme to Manchester United’s Carabao Cup victory, it was that of renewal.
Erik ten Hag signaled the next step of his rehabilitation with a trophy, Marcus Rashford maintained his brilliant scoring form, and Manchester United demonstrated why they are so optimistic about their future after spending so much time in the past.
Summer signing Casemiro had the most impact on the day, although Aaron Wan-second-half Bissaka’s performance cannot be overstated.
The greatest praise is that he was dropped from the start, despite the fact that by full-time he had conveyed the clearest message yet about why he deserved to play from the start.
The 25-year-old was introduced at halftime on a booking alongside Diogo Dalot and was tasked with the onerous task of subduing the vivacious Allan Saint-Maximin.
Wan-Bissaka was ideal for the task and loved the opportunity to frustrate the forward, always appearing to have a solution for everything was thrown at him.
Despite only entering the game at halftime, the United defender made the most tackles of any player. His seven successful tackles were the highest in a League Cup final since N’Golo Kanté for Chelsea in 2019, but he was on the field for more than 120 minutes.
Newcastle may have found a way back into the game on another day, but there was never any possibility of breaking down the tenacious right-back. Wan-Bissaka was so defensively disciplined that Saint-Maximin got clearly upset with his lack of progress down the left, as his artistry was unable to unlock the most tenacious of locks.
That was the latest in a succession of brilliant performances from the reinvigorated right-back, and the latest stage in his redemption journey, which has seen him go from surplus to magnificent in less than two months.
Ten Hag just recently confessed, “We need two good full-backs, since we have a lot of games coming up,” in what appeared to be a shot at Wan-Bissaka.
The player had already been told he could leave before the conclusion of last season, but a lack of suitors meant United were trapped with the £50 million former Crystal Palace star.
Wan-Bissaka had barely played four minutes before the winter break and was not even considered the second choice in his position until being thrust back in.
Diogo Dalot started every game previous to the World Cup save one, missing out on a start at Fulham due to suspension. Tyrell Malacia was repositioned to the right, emphasizing Ten Hag’s lack of faith in his backup.
Wan-Bissaka appeared to be on his way out at the end of last month, but he was given an unexpected opportunity when Dalot sustained a hamstring injury as Portugal was ousted from the World Cup.
There was cautious optimism about Wan-return Bissaka’s to the United squad, but there was little hope that he would be able to maintain his outstanding form until Dalot returned to fitness.
Instead, it was a pleasant surprise to see him continue to progress, not only as a defensive full-back, but also by displaying another side to his game with his confidence on the ball.
This was clear once more on Sunday afternoon, with Wan-Bissaka loving the chance to press forward as the game progressed, frequently finding himself at the center of counter-attacks.
It may not appear to be much, but the fact that he was so willing to attack and even try his luck from outside the box demonstrated how much confidence he has regained after it appeared that he was finished at the club.
There is no compelling reason to break ways with him this summer, and even if they do, his value will have surged to the level that was paid for him four years ago.
Whatever happens next, it was inspiring to see a player who had been written off write his own name in the history books while wearing a winner’s medal around his neck.
On a day that demonstrated how far United have come, no player has progressed as quickly as Wan-Bissaka.