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 of a difference will a win make?
I think there are two ways of looking at the season: “glass half empty” or “glass half full”. As Jose Mourinho is very keen to emphasise, the latter would suggest that we have made significant improvement on our 6th placed Premier League finish of last season, and that the 81 points we garnered would have been enough to actually win a title for us in several recent seasons. The squad is undeniably stronger than last season, given the additions of the likes of Nemanja Matic, Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelöf, and but for a simply remarkable campaign by our cross-town rivals, United would have been right in the hunt for that elusive 21st league title.
The former “glass half empty” viewpoint is, however, equally persuasive: the football we’ve witnessed has been largely uninspiring, unadventurous and dull, almost a reflection of the manager. We have failed to make an impact in several high-profile fixtures (the home game against Manchester City and both ties in Europe against Sevilla readily spring to mind) and lost to all of the three promoted Championship teams from last season (dropped points which ultimately cost us any chance of actually staging a fight for the title). Viewed from the ‘outside’, there appear to be a number of players who are treated “differently” and more harshly than others by Mourinho, such that the departures of Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw in particular would be no great shock to any United fans now.
My dislike of Mourinho perhaps ‘colours’ my view slightly, and it would be churlish to try to deny that we have not improved our results against our main domestic rivals; however, shocking “non-performances” against sides like Southampton and Brighton have highlighted a return to the days of the mid-1980s, when United were over-reliant on a few ‘superstar’ players (Bryan Robson chief amongst them) to ‘turn it on’, and if that didn’t happen on the day, the result probably didn’t go in our favour.
Winning the F.A. Cup would be a huge boost for the morale of everyone connected to the Club and would probably move the season up from being merely “an improvement” to becoming “very decent” in terms of tangible success. However, the disappointment of crashing out to Sevilla hangs like a black cloud over everything, as does the small matter of a 19-point gap to City…. there is a lot of work to be done to try to bridge that gap this summer.
Where do you think the game will be won/lost?
Midfield. Put simply, we need to make sure we win the battle for ball possession in that area, with big performances from Matic, Herrera and Pogba absolutely essential. Chelsea’s danger-men (primarily Eden Hazard and Willian) will be operating in the space between our defence and midfield, so we need to keep that area very ‘small’ indeed, and Mourinho might be tempted to man-mark Hazard, certainly in the 1st half.
If he doesn’t make it, Lukaku will be a big “miss” for us, so Marcus Rashford and/or Alexis Sanchez will be under pressure to convert any chances we create.
Who is Chelsea’s biggest threat?
Eden Hazard. The lad is a wizard with the ball at his feet, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a very large bid for his services arriving at Stamford Bridge this summer from Spain. He will also be crucial to Belgium’s World Cup campaign, so let’s hope his mind is on that and not on us this Saturday!
Willian and Olivier Giroud will need to be kept out of the game as much as possible too, as both men have the ability to hurt us, particularly from set-pieces.
Key player for United on the day?
Nemanja Matic. If the big man can establish control of the base area of midfield, we can use that platform to take a stranglehold on the tempo and direction of the game; we will also need performances from the likes of Pogba and Lingard when it comes to actually creating problems for the Blues’ defence.
Where and with whom will you be watching the game?
I’m actually driving the 5-and-something hours it takes to get from Little Rock across to Dallas, to join the famous Dallas Reds at the Henderson Taphouse Bar to hopefully see United finish the season in some style! They are expecting nearly 500 people to be cramming the place out, so it should make for a good atmosphere anyway! Looking forward to it.
Favourite moment from this season’s Cup run?
Ander Herrera ‘completing’ his comeback into the 1st team properly by slotting in the winner against Tottenham Hotspur in the Semi-Final. It capped a tremendous performance from last season’s “Player of the Year” in what, otherwise, has been a very disappointing season for the Basque lad. I still think Michel Vorm should have done better with the shot, but we don’t care about that! Herrera could do with another big performance on Saturday to convince the many doubters among our support of his worth to the team.
Best and worst memory of Cup Finals gone by?
Best: The 1985 Final. “Hughes puts it through to Whiteside….WHITESIDE!! He’s only curled it around Neville Southall from the edge of the area! What a goal!”
The ten men of United (Kevin Moran having earlier become the first player to ever get sent-off in an F.A. Cup Final for a fairly impressive scything down of Peter Reid!) see off a superb Everton team that would win the league title and European Cup-Winners’ Cup that year. It was the moment a boy from Belfast “lived the dream” for all us Norn Irish Reds, the first to do so since a certain Georgie Best!
Worst: The 1979 Final. We’d battled back bravely from 0-2 down to make it 2-2 with two goals from Gordon McQueen and Sammy McIlroy in the last few minutes of normal time- the ‘fairy tale’ comeback to win the trophy would surely take place during extra-time. Arsenal were ‘out on their feet’, there for the taking. And then it happened. A last-gasp counter-attack, Graham Rix crosses from the left, and there’s bloody Alan Sunderland, the curly-haired gormless muppet, knocking it past Gary Bailey at the far post, breaking our hearts and reducing this 8-year-old to a puddle of tears, still the only time a game of football has left me in tears of despair afterwards. It was a useful life lesson that sometimes the things you love the most (in this case, football) can also hurt the most!
Your starting line-up for Saturday?
Note: mine, not Mourinho’s…