Monday, June 5, 2023

FA Cup Final: Two Down, One To Go For Manchester City

Manchester City took the next step to a historic Treble by defeating rival Manchester United 2-1 in the FA Cup final. Ilkay Gundogan got things started quickly for Manchester City by establishing a Cup record with a goal just 13 seconds into the match. The Manchester City captain wasn’t done, however, as he would strike again in the 51st minute to deliver the winner. Gundogan has been rumored to be departing City, but he clearly remains a big match presence for the Citizens. The lightning quick first goal was a thing of beauty with Gundogan taking his chance on the volley and bending the ball perfectly past flat footed Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea.

Manchester United would get a lifeline in the 31st minute when a Jack Grealish handball led to a successful Bruno Fernandes penalty take. Knotted at the break, Gundogan would step forward just six minutes into the second half with his second goal. The winning shot was more opportunistic than skillful as Gundogan seemingly mis-hit a ball that traveled through Manchester United defenders and bounced twice in front of De Gea who once again was beaten. De Gea’s place in Manchester United’s future remains a debate as mistakes have become an increasing part of his game. The goalkeeper’s weakness in distributing the ball was also highlighted by comparison with the far more effective Manchester City’s goalkeeper Stefan Ortega. Whereas more than fifty percent of De Gea’s kicks would result in Manchester City possession, his counterpart continually triggered the Manchester City attack.

In a decision that could have been later questioned if things went differently, City Manager Pep Guardiola decided to stick with Ortega who had played in the earlier Cup rounds and leave regular starting goalkeeper Ederson on the bench. Guardiola was rewarded with a confident performance from Ortega who remained unflustered after having little chance on Fernandes’s penalty. Both Manchester City goals were, of course, assisted by the Premier League leader in assists this season, Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian dominated midfield play, where Manchester United midfielders Christian Eriksen and Fred labored throughout the match. Beyond the Fernandes penalty goal, there was little to excite Manchester United supporters. Marcus Rashford was no factor and Jaden Sancho, once a Manchester City phenom, continued to burnish his reputation as a bust for the Red Devils. Perhaps the lone bright spot for Manchester United was the play of 18-year-old substitute Alejandro Garnacho who replaced Sancho in the 62nd minute. His second half introduction injected some energy into an otherwise listless attack which was without injured players Antony Martial and Antony.

Despite an underwhelming performance on Saturday, there should be no shame for a Manchester United side which lost narrowly to what is likely the best club in the world at the moment. Manchester City are just better and now turn their sights on Inter Milan next weekend. Manchester United, meanwhile, heads home after reaching two finals this year, winning one, and securing Champions League football for next season. Importantly, the club may have found its manager for the long term as Eric ten Hag has put his stamp on the club in a successful maiden Premier League season. Ten Hag now needs backing in the transfer window for Manchester United to realistically challenge a club like Manchester City. 

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