Manchester United's recent title win in the EFL Cup – also known as Carabao Cup - ended their trophy drought finally. It was their worst run in 40 years - the longest the club has gone without winning a trophy.
True, the silverware might pale in comparison to the other popular titles, but it has sparked a sense of hope in fans and players alike. Social media is abuzz with optimism. The sights are already set on the Premier League, and though it may seem far-fetched at the moment, there's a reason for their belief.
Despite a shaky start to the season under new manager Erik ten Hag, Manchester United are now third in the Premier League standings. The team has developed the fortitude to grind out results regularly, even when it does not play well. Unlike the last United manager to win trophies - Jose Mourinho (2016-2017) who was focused on immediate success – it is clear that ten Hag values consistency and it has shown in the team’s performance of late. He is the first ever Dutch manager to win the League Cup. And he has done it in his first season in English football.
Here's a look at ten Hag's tenure so far:
76 goals scored
38 goals conceded
ten Hag’s reign is just getting started, but the players have been showing a marked improvement. Striker Marcus Rashford has been a revelation this season, with 25 goals, including the one he scored in the final against Newcastle United. Casemiro, arguably the best midfielder in world football currently, scored the other. In fact, the Brazilian has won 16 of the 17 finals he has played.
And then there is David de Gea, who broke the record for the most clean sheets in the club's history (181), overtaking Peter Schmeichel. Portuguese international Bruno Fernandes has led the team with aplomb, in the absence of Harry Maguire, who has been benched.
Their EFL win is comparable to Manchester City’s FA cup victory in 2011 or Chelsea’s League Cup win in 2011 or even United’s own FA Cup triumph in 1990, all of which led to sustained success for the respective teams.
United face West Ham on Thursday (March 2, 1:15 AM IST), for a spot in the quarterfinals. Should they advance, their “noisy neighbours” City remain the biggest threat to United’s hope of claiming a second domestic trophy this season.
The recent win against Barcelona has made United favourites to win the cup (Europe’s second tier competition), but a number of formidable opponents still remain, including Arsenal, Juventus and Roma.
Although a title win is a big ask of the team, United find themselves at third place - only eight points behind league leaders Arsenal. There is a possibility of closing the gap if City beat Arsenal in their clash in April.
However, the squad depth remains the primary hurdle in United’s path. Christian Eriksen is out with an ankle injury and Anthony Martial has struggled with fitness issues all season. This has caused ten Hag to rely the loan signings Marcel Sabitzer and Wout Weghorst, who lack the class and calibre of Eriksen and Martial.
Rashford remains the primary source of goals and should anything happen to him, it will probably derail the Red Devil’s season.
In contrast to the glory days, the current squad lacks title experience, too, which is why the influence of serial winners like Raphaël Varane and Casemiro is pivotal.
The title boost will certainly help the team's morale and make the players hungry for more trophies. If all goes accordingly to ten Hag’s plan, we might just see United restore themselves to the grandeur of the Ferguson Era.