The year's best story? Karius out for redemption in EFL Cup final on his Newcastle debut

Sunday's EFL Cup final is a tale of two clubs desperate to herald the beginning of a new era with silverware. For Manchester United, ending a six-year wait for a major trophy would affirm Erik ten Hag's revolution. For Newcastle United, a 68-year drought would be remedied by the wealth of the Saudi PIF and the tinkerings of Eddie Howe. 

But one subplot has turned all that into fluff. When Newcastle supporters make the 275-mile trip from Tyneside to Wembley Stadium (their first since losing to Man United in the 1998-99 FA Cup Final), they'll do so knowing that their hopes and dreams rest in the most unlikeliest pair of hands — a third-choice keeper making his Newcastle debut. It only adds to the intrigue that the keeper is one Loris Karius.

When Karius takes his place between the sticks as Newcastle's No. 1 on Sunday, it'll have been 4 years and nine months since his infamous performance against Real Madrid cost Liverpool the Champions League final.

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His path from there to starting the League Cup final hasn't exactly been redemptive.

Karius spent two years on loan at Beşiktaş before a massive falling out (Karius said he wasn't paid his full salary, Beşiktaş basically said he was lucky to be paid at all given his performances). He then spent a year on loan at Union Berlin as a backup. Karius returned to Liverpool last season but wasn't included in the squad and his contract finally expired in June.

Up in Newcastle, the team began the 2022-23 season with three exceptional keepers: Nick Pope, Martin Dúbravka and Karl Darlow. However, Dúbravka joined Man United on loan (appearing in two League Cup matches) and Darlow hurt his ankle, so Newcastle signed Karius as an emergency keeper in September. Darlow recovered from his injury but joined Hull City on loan in January while Dúbravka returned to the club that month after his loan was terminated. Karius was still the emergency No. 3.  

But then a twist of fate: In Newcastle's Premier League fixture against Liverpool on Saturday, Pope was given a straight red card for handling outside the area. He now has to serve his ban during the final. Newcastle's No. 2, Dúbravka, can't play because he featured in those EFL Cup games for Man United. 

It came down to a decision between Karius and 30-year-old Mark Gillespie, but Gillespie hasn't played much at all since a 2019-20 campaign with Motherwell in the Scottish Premiership. Karius hasn't been much more active over the last couple years, but the 29-year-old now has a script that's too far-fetched for Hollywood.

On Sunday he can change the entire narrative around his name. 

"It would be a magnificent chance for him to rewrite the story of his career," Howe told reporters on Tuesday. "There's been loads of stories through the times in football where these things have happened and there's been a really positive outcome ... or not. We can't predict what that will be. But as soon as it happened there was that feeling there's another story in Karius' career — another page or chapter to write — and who knows what that chapter will look like. That's the beauty of football. This unpredictability is what makes it such an amazing thing to watch."

Karius will have a settled backline in front of him with Dan Burn, Sven Botman, Fabian Schär and Kieran Trippier so far proving the Premier League's staunchest rearguard, but Man United's attack is also flying with Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes in top form.

Karius will be called into action, and his every piece of distribution will draw an intense reaction from the 90,000 in attendance. If it's drama you're after, this League Cup final promises more than anything else on TV.

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