Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Man United: Martinez stars in EFL Cup final

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Manchester United are trophy winners once again. It has been six arduous years since the club last tasted silverware but on a brisk Wembley afternoon, Erik ten Hag’s men reigned supreme.

Not since 2017 when Jose Mourinho took the Europa League home have they had success like this but it feels like a glut could follow in the coming years.

The new regime hasn’t all been plain sailing, however, with United now having come what feels like a long way since that 4-0 defeat to Brentford in the early stages of the campaign.

Though, leaders have now emerged and several players have stood up when it really matters with the Red Devils beginning to look like a force to be reckoned with once again.

In truth, it never looked in doubt with Ten Hag inspiring his team to a 2-0 win over the underdogs Newcastle United.

Casemiro was once again crucial, with the midfielder more than justifying his price tag and hefty wages in recent months.

He looks every bit the Champions League winner they thought they were signing, even adding goals to his game.

Throughout 2022/23, the Brazilian has found the net on five occasions, with the latest of those coming today in the Wembley showpiece.

He steered home Luke Shaw’s free-kick expertly before Marcus Rashford’s deflected strike – eventually awarded as an own goal by Sven Botman – sealed things.

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Casemiro was undoubtedly one of the heroes throughout but a special mention should be reserved for his fellow South American; Lisandro Martinez.

Another of the most eye-catching transfers last summer, the Argentine has fought back against the critics who labelled him ‘too small’ upon his entrance in English football.

He has since become “an absolute warrior” – as dubbed by reporter Jon Dunham – for Ten Hag, emerging as one of the pivotal cogs and figureheads in what this revolution has been at Old Trafford.

A pitbull on the pitch, his never-say-die attitude and bullish approach to the game marks him out as an old-school defender but he is very much the modern package too.

In essence, he is the perfect centre-back and despite his height, never gets bullied.

That shone through during the final on Sunday with the “mad man” – as labelled by writer Mitch Wilks – winning three out of his four ground duels, via Sofascore.

Martinez produced three tackles in total, while making five clearances and blocking two shots during an afternoon where the likes of Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron rarely had a sniff.

Also boasting a pass success rate of 82% from his 38 touches of the ball, the former Ajax man oozed class when in possession.

His partnership with Raphael Varane was imperious and is very quickly becoming of the best in the country.

They are physical, classy and huge pillars of this team. Indeed, if anyone embodies the changing culture at United, it is Martinez. The World Cup winner certainly deserves every bit of the success he has achieved in the last few months.



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