As the FA Cup final draws closer, the United writers share their thoughts on the game, as well as previous Cup finals:
Ahead of the FA Cup final, what is your opinion on United’s season and how much difference will a win make?
It’s been one of the strangest seasons I can remember. This is the highest finish United have achieved since Ferguson retired and we’ve made it to another cup final. We’ve also managed to record some impressive victories over the rest of the top sides. Any season when we beat Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal (twice) and City should be deemed a successful one.
But the season has been punctuated by several really poor performances. Losing every away game to the newly promoted sides just isn’t good enough. The meek performances against the bigger sides at the start of the season were also pathetic displays. The Sevilla game.
With regards to the Cup final, I think it makes a big difference this season. Second place is a success, but the style of play and the regression in certain player’s performances have caused a bit of a split in the fanbase. If Mourinho starts next season poorly, those dissenters could get very loud, very quickly. If he finishes second and wins the cup, he’ll buy himself a lot of goodwill. Two seasons and three trophies? That doesn’t sound too bad.
Where do you think the game will be won/lost?
Midfield. United need to get the balance right in the centre to have any chance of winning. The games in which they struggled early on this season, they got it all wrong. Mourinho’s preference to play a 4-2-3-1 with Pogba sat next to Matic left them far too exposed. Teams just glided through the centre of the field and set themselves on our defence.
In this game, United are likely to play one more central midfielder than Chelsea. With Pogba, Herrera and Matic are likely to start, they should have a nice blend of creativity, energy and stability. The three of them looked very comfortable together against Spurs, so hopefully, they can play just as well in the final.
Who is Chelsea’s biggest threat?
It’s a cliché to say this, but United should be most fearful of Eden Hazard. He’s on another level compared to the rest of the Chelsea squad and has terrorised United before. Herrera has previously man marked him out of this fixture, so it will be interesting to see if he is tasked with doing that again. If he fails, United will be in for a torrid game. If he succeeds, he may halt Chelsea’s creativity enough to stop them from being a major threat.
Key player for United for the day?
Undoubtedly, Paul Pogba. If he plays at his best, he’s the most talented player in either squad. The problem is that those performances have been far too sporadic.
In United’s central area, he’s our only real creative outlet. It will be Pogba who needs to find the gaps, feed the attackers to create the chances to score the goals. If he fails to perform, United might struggle to move from the centre of the field and into dangerous areas.
The Frenchman has struggled to get the better of Kante in recent games, so he needs to elevate his game to have a major effect on the result. Here’s hoping he can get the better of his fellow countryman.
Where and with whom will you be watching the game?
I’ll be watching it on BBC, at home on the sofa. As is customary, my Dad will be texting me his opinion whenever anything of note happens. Although, as I’m watching it on the BBC, at least he can’t message me before a goal goes in, which is what happens when I watch it online. When Van Persie scored that free kick against City, I had already received a text that read ‘YEAAAAAAAAAAAA’ before he’d even struck it.
My girlfriend will probably watch it with me. My City supporting girlfriend. Look, she goes out with me, so she already has a history of making bad choices. We’re both quite good at not being too vicious when it comes to the football, so hopefully, she won’t give me too many digs if United fail to win.
Favourite moment from this season’s cup run?
The semi-final. United’s run to the final was fairly routine until they went a goal down at Wembley. At that point, I thought that was it. Spurs had started the game so well and they were effectively at home. But United rallied, Pogba floated the ball onto Sanchez’s head and the game was on. From then on they never really looked like losing. There have been too few games that we’ve won that comfortably this season.
Best and worst memories from finals gone by?
The best is undoubtedly the Van Gaal final. It wasn’t a great performance and that was by no means a historic United side. But so much happened. A young Marcus Rashford was in the form of his life. Rooney was in central midfield. We went a goal down and Pardew did that terrible dance. Fellaini did something useful by chesting it to Mata. Smalling was needlessly sent off for grabbing Bolasie. But nothing compared to the feeling when that kid rifled in that volley. Then he lost his mind with joy. You can’t buy that.
It’s hard to pick the worst memory, mainly because I don’t have too many. I don’t know why, but it seems that growing up, I never really watched any of the finals we were involved in. It seems I was too glued to my PlayStation to watch it live. I do have a vague memory of being wound up at the 2005 final. Did we lose on penalties to Arsenal? I can’t remember, I was probably too deep into Kingdom Hearts to care.
Your starting lineup for Saturday?
I’m going to go for the lineup that I think is most likely rather than mine. Assuming that Lukaku makes it, I think it will be: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Young; Matic, Herrera, Pogba; Lingard, Lukaku, Alexis. If Lukaku doesn’t make it, expect to see Rashford replace him.