The year was 1996, England was apprehensive about hosting the European Championship and Manchester United had just won the Premier League and F.A Cup double.
In hindsight, everyone knows how successful Euro 96 was for England and how dominate Manchester United were in the 1990s. Although, we tend to forget England did not qualify for World Cup 1994 and Alan Shearer had not scored an international goal for two years. In addition, big spending Blackburn Rovers had just challenged Manchester United’s early Premier League dominance by winning the title the previous season.
The F.A Cup was key to reasserting Manchester United’s dominance in 1996 and could provide a platform for Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United to mount a domestic and European challenge next season.
Whilst the importance of the Premier League has increased the F.A Cup continues to be the most reputable domestic cup competition in the world. The setting isn’t too dissimilar, in 1996 it was 1st vs 4th and in 2018 it is 2nd vs 5th,
The significance of the F.A Cup has increased. Back in 1996 there were 3 realistic title challengers (Manchester United, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers) and in 2018 there is now effectively a top six who all have to satisfy their fans with a trophy. Both Chelsea and Manchester United have drew a blank this season and the F.A Cup final is crucial to the trajectory of the teams next season. Qualifying for the Champions League and winning back to back F.A Cup’s will provide Jose Mourinho with the ammunition to attract truly world class players, hopefully before the World Cup starts as everyone knows how prices get inflated during the tournament.
Contrary to popular belief, we have established that this F.A Cup final is more important for Jose Mourinho than the pundits and manager’s, who have been demeaning the magic of the cup, make out. The next question is what are the chances of Manchester United lifting the trophy? Come Saturday afternoon the key question is will Romelu Lukaku be fit? He has scored 5 goals in the competition this season with Chelsea’s nearest competitor being Michy Batshuayi (now at Borussia Dortmund) with 3.
Could this also be the final that Alexis Sanchez lands himself in Manchester United folklore? Back in 1996, Eric Cantona was the talisman appearing in his first final after a 9 month ban. Whilst, unlike Alexis Sanchez, he had spear headed Manchester United’s title charge, he had tremendous pressure to perform and delivered with the F.A Cup final winning goal. Will Alexis Sanchez prove to be the same catalyst and drive Manchester United’s domestic and European challenges next season.