Newcastle smash £381m acid test and prove transfer critics and Liverpool cynics wrong

With Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund on the horizon in quick succession, there is little time for Newcastle United to enjoy their statement win. After all, it is only the second time since 1972 that the Magpies have left Old Trafford victorious.

But beyond that startling statistic, it was a comfortable win that represented far more than just booking the team’s place in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals. The statement success away to a ‘Big Six’ rival who have proven themselves desperate to pull up the drawbridge to the rest of division in recent times was achieved largely in the absence of the club’s leading stars.

Injuries and rotation demands meant Eddie Howe turned to his squad and challenged them to deliver after making eight changes. As the Newcastle head coach stressed following the full-time whistle, there are almost too many narratives to focus upon, beginning with Emil Krafth’s first start for 14 months in an unfamiliar position following a long-awaited comeback from injury.

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Sean Longstaff captained his boyhood club for the first time in his 150th appearance, while Joe Willock netted on his first start since returning from injury. Summer recruits Lewis Hall and Tino Livramento, who have had to wait patiently for chances so far, proved their worth in a stunning riposte to those who had begun to question the summer decision to sign the pair.

This was a starting eleven so far removed from the spine of the team we have become accustomed to watching in the swift transformation from relegation contenders to a Champions League outfit. Yet despite rare starts, new partnerships and players out of of position, the biggest compliment to be paid is it remained a now trademark Newcastle display.

It is testament to the work carried out by Howe and his coaching staff over the last two years, along with the buy-in of a squad which remains in limbo between the Mike Ashley era and the complete overhaul many assumed would be imminent following the takeover. It was a makeshift team largely decided for the head coach by circumstance, tasked with defying historical precedent against an albeit rotated Red Devils side which still boasted the likes of Antony, Casemiro, and Mason Mount.

Erik ten Hag has splashed a reported £381 million in the three transfer windows since his appointment, but on the evidence of Wednesday night looks no closer to having a squad capable of competing on four fronts. It is still far too soon to say either way whether Newcastle have proven they have enough in reserve to challenge for the remainder of the season, but in any case it is already a far cry from the second-string being dumped out of the FA Cup by Sheffield Wednesday earlier this year.

It is also the latest layer on a timely response to those who questioned the mentality on Tyneside after the horrendous home defeat to Liverpool. The collapse against 10 men was followed by another poor defeat at Brighton, with Simon Jordan among those doubting the ‘winning’ mindset of those in black-and-white.

In the following two months, Newcastle have dumped both Manchester City and Manchester United out of the Carabao Cup, followed up a draw on their Champions League return against AC Milan with a famous victory over Paris Saint-Germain, while rising back up the Premier League table following a slow start. The Magpies reward for their victory at Old Trafford is a quarter-final tie at Chelsea next month.

It is yet another unhappy hunting ground for Newcastle, but the Toon Army’s response to this latest difficult draw was telling. It was confirmation of a mindset shift both inside and outside the club, with United replacing fear with confidence in the face of any challenge now laid before them.

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