MANCHESTER, England — It’s fair to say Manchester United and Newcastle have their sights on much bigger prizes than the English League Cup.
Both teams, however, will recognize the significance of lifting the first major trophy of the season and potentially signaling the start of a new era of success for the winner.
Sunday’s final at Wembley is a meeting of two rising forces in the Premier League who will hope to be going head-to-head at the top of the sport for years to come.
Which is why a first piece of silverware could be such an essential building block.
United looks transformed under manager Erik ten Hag, who has guided the 20-time English champions to his first final at the earliest possible point after taking over at the end of last season. It’s sparked talk of an unlikely title challenge.
After six years without a trophy, United fans are desperate for something to cheer and hungry for evidence the club is ready to challenge the dominance of fierce rival Manchester City.
For Newcastle, the wait for a major piece of domestic silverware has been considerably longer — 68 years in fact since it won the FA Cup in 1955. And hopes of success had all but faded until Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund bought the club in 2021, making it arguably the richest in world soccer.
Newcastle’s development is possibly quicker than some expected and has come without the sort of exorbitant spending seen from other clubs that have experienced sudden wealth.
Under manager Eddie Howe, a sound, if unspectacular, transfer strategy has put a team that looked set for relegation last season in serious contention for a top-four Champions League qualifying spot.
A ticket into Europe’s elite club competition would open the door for marquee signings and further improvement on the field, with the ultimate aim of challenging for the biggest titles alongside the giants of the game.
While Newcastle’s top-four challenge has slipped in recent weeks, Howe’s team, which will be without suspended goalkeeper Nick Pope, still appears ahead of schedule and a trophy would underline his impressive work so far.
Ten Hag, however, has also exceeded expectations in his first season in charge, especially after such a humbling start to the campaign in which his team lost its opening two games.
Sitting five points off leader Arsenal, third-place United is in contention at the top of the Premier League, while the League Cup gives the Dutchman the chance to win only the club’s fourth trophy since the retirement of iconic former manager Alex Ferguson in 2013.
Louis van Gaal won the FA Cup in 2016, but was fired at the end of that season.
His replacement Jose Mourinho won the League Cup and the Europa League in his first season in 2017, but that trophy double proved to be the height of his reign, which ended when he was fired in 2018.
There is hope among fans that a trophy for Ten Hag would be a genuine pointer to a new period of success, rather than a false dawn, and the League Cup has been used as a platform for winning eras at other clubs in recent years.
The first of Mourinho’s seven trophies at Chelsea was the League Cup in 2005 and it was also Pep Guardiola’s first at City in 2018.
While there is no guarantee it would have a similar impact for either United or Newcastle, it would be confirmation of the progress being made at both clubs.
Ten Hag was hired to bring the good times back to United, while expectations are growing at Newcastle after the influx of money from Saudi Arabia.
It is the League Cup at stake on Sunday, but the final could be a warm-up for much greater challenges between these two clubs going forward.