Friday, June 2, 2023

FA Cup Final: The Ultimate Manchester Derby

Crosstown rivals Manchester City and Manchester United will meet in an FA Cup Final for the first time on Saturday. It is, in fact, the first time that a Manchester derby will be contested in any major final. Both clubs are seeking to build on successful seasons with a second title. Favorite Manchester City won the Premier League for a third consecutive season and its fifth title in the last six years. Manchester United won the EFL Carabao Cup while finishing third in the league standings.

Manchester City, of course, has the small matter of  a Champions League final just a week after Saturday’s appointment at Wembley. The only club to have accomplished the Treble of winning the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup in one season is Manchester United (1998/99). The Red Devils will be anxious to keep it that way while securing their own brace of current season titles on Saturday. The task won’t be easy. Erling Haaland established a new Premier League record with 36 goals and has scored 52 times in his 51 appearances for Manchester City across all competitions. Often setting up those Haaland goals is Kevin De Bruyne who became the fourth player in Premier League history to reach 100 careers assists with his league leading 16 this season. The talent doesn’t stop with that dynamic duo, however, as Manager Pep Guardiola can reach deep into his bench for players who would start for most any other club. The aspiring European champions scored the most and allowed the joint fewest goals in the Premier League this season.

Rival Manchester United can also be celebrated for a strong season in Manager Eric ten Hag’s Premier League debut. Ten Hag brushed aside early season wobbles and the unfortunate Cristiano Ronaldo saga to lead the Red Devils back into the top four and put another trophy on the shelf. Four wins to close the season defused any threat from Liverpool to bump the Red Devils from Champions League qualification. Marcus Rashford scored 17 league goals for Manchester United and will need to deliver a performance on Saturday. Striker Anthony Martial and winger Antony are both expected to be sidelined for Saturday’s match, limiting ten Hag’s options in attack for a side which scored 36 fewer goals this season than Saturday’s opponent. The Red Devils were successful in the last meeting between the two clubs, prevailing 2-1 in January as Haaland was kept off the scoresheet and largely nullified while Rashford and Bruno Fernandes found the net for United. The January victory avenged a 6-3 October thumping by the Citizens. Manchester United will be appearing in the FA Cup final for the 21st time, joining Arsenal for the highest number of such appearances. The Red Devils ticket to this final was provided by a successful penalty shootout against Brighton in the semifinal.

Manchester City arrives by virtue of a Riyad Mahrez hat trick which defeated recently promoted Sheffield United 3-0. A rail strike scheduled for Saturday has authorities urging fans of the two clubs to take differing designated routes from Manchester to London as an expected crowd of almost 90,000 converges on Wembley. 

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