FA Cup final talking points: Who will come out on top at Wembley?

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FA Cup final talking points: Who will come out on top at Wembley?

The two managers preparing their teams for Saturday’s FA Cup final could scarcely be doing so under more polarised circumstances.

With Manchester City enjoying a period of success unprecedented in English football, United are weathering a storm so fierce it may not subside even if they upset the odds and beat their rivals at Wembley.

The contrasting fortunes of Pep Guardiola and Erik ten Hag is just one of the talking points ahead of Saturday’s showpiece event. Sky Sports’ football writers take a look at what is at stake this weekend.

Does the final matter more to Ten Hag?

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Dean Ashton says Manchester United ‘got away with it big time’ after beating Coventry City on penalties to reach the FA Cup final

Following one of the club’s worst league seasons in a generation it could be that the writing is already on the wall for Ten Hag after two years in the job, as new minority owners INEOS consider how best to take the club forward.

The United manager has overseen the club’s lowest Premier League finish as well as 14 league defeats and a first-ever negative goal difference, while defeat at Wembley will leave them facing just a second season since 1989/90 without European football.

Four victories in the final 13 games of the Premier League season, a run that included a calamitous 4-0 humbling by Crystal Palace early in May, was an indicator that progress under their Dutch coach has stalled, while even the manner in which they reached Saturday’s final – throwing away a 3-0 semi-final lead against Championship side Coventry and requiring penalties to edge through – drew harsh criticism.

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Erik ten Hag admitted that Manchester United’s season had not been good enough but that they are now looking forward to the opportunity to win the FA Cup against Manchester City next weekend

Ten Hag called the hostile media reception to the semi-final win “embarrassing”, but the assessment of United’s performance against the Sky Blues was a snapshot of a campaign in which they have consistently been accused of failing to exercise control over games.

There would be no shortage of candidates should Sir Jim Ratcliffe decide upon a change, with Mauricio Pochettino – who was considered for the job in 2022 before the appointment of Ten Hag – the latest name to become available following his departure from Chelsea.

Former Blues bosses Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter as well as England manager Gareth Southgate have also been linked, as has Kieran McKenna of Ipswich.

To reports this could his last game as United manager, Ten Hag responded: “I have nothing to say, just focusing on the job I have to do on Saturday. I came here to win trophies. Saturday I have the next opportunity and I have already done it.”

Ultimately the decision could come down to how much of United’s demise is deemed to be on Ten Hag’s shoulders and how much is the product of more structural problems outside of the manager’s control.
Ben Grounds

Last chance for Euros-deciding game time

Harry Maguire celebrates doubling Man Utd's lead

Image: Harry Maguire has been ruled out through injury

With England and Scotland announcing their provisional Euro 2024 squad this week, Saturday’s FA Cup final offers a final change for players to get some vital game minutes under their belts.

Manchester United have three players in Gareth Southgate’s squad. Youngster Kobbie Mainoo will be hoping to end his breakthrough season on a high, while Harry Maguire has been a constant presence in an injury-hit defensive line – a role he will likely continue to play for England.

Ten Hag has confirmed that the centre-back is unavailable after failing to prove his fitness.

The big question mark remains over Luke Shaw. He hasn’t played any football since February, and is unlikely to feature this weekend. However, he is England’s only recognised left-back, but faces an uphill battle to make it to Germany.

One Manchester United player who is likely going though is Scotland’s Scott McTominay. A talisman for his country, he started the final three games of the Premier League season and was named captain against Arsenal.

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England manager Gareth Southgate explains why he has left Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson out of his provisional squad for the Euros

Manchester City’s Phil Foden and captain Kyle Walker will be hoping for another bit of silverware in their pockets heading into the Euros after good campaigns.

But John Stones, normally a regular for England alongside Maguire, started in just 12 league games this season, partly due to injury and partly due to form of other players.

Jack Grealish too has struggled with injury at times. Both he and Stones will be hoping for some minutes to help cement their place in Southgate’s 26.

But both the England boss and Scotland’s Steve Clarke will also be hoping serious injury doesn’t hinder their certain inclusions. It is headache no one needs at this time of the season with an important tournament on the horizon.
Charlotte Marsh

Can Haaland reach another landmark?

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Manchester City’s celebrations didn’t stop on the field as they continued to sing and dance in the changing room!

He may not have equalled last year’s breathtaking haul of 52 but, despite missing a sizeable chunk of the season either side of Christmas with a foot injury, City’s top-scorer Erling Haaland stands on the brink of a significant milestone by netting 40 or more goals in all competitions in consecutive seasons.

To pull it off he needs two goals at Wembley, which would in turn take his City total to 92 since joining from Borussia Dortmund less than two years ago.

The Norwegian has also been involved in nine goals in five appearances against United in all competitions (6 goals, 3 assists), more than he has against any other side as a Manchester City player.

Having not scored in the Champions League final last season and failed to shine against Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the competition this term, Haaland will want to prove not only to himself that he is capable of providing defining moments on the biggest stage.
Ben Grounds

Snubbed Rashford has a point to prove

Marcus Rashford

Image: Marcus Rashford has endured a difficult season

It has been a chastening couple of weeks for Marcus Rashford. After a heated argument with a Manchester United fan marred his return to the squad in the 3-2 win over Newcastle at Old Trafford, the forward was surprisingly left out of Gareth Southgate’s provisional England squad for the Euros.

Ten Hag said on Rashford: “He looks good. That’s a career, you have ups and downs. And a down can also give you fuel, that’s what I see from him in training. I’m sure he’ll get over this.”

His omission came after a poor season. Rashford, scorer of 30 goals in all competitions last term, has only found the net eight times in this one. Southgate feels others have overtaken him at international level and that touchline spat at Old Trafford underlined his strained relationship with fans.

Many have lost patience with his ineffectual performances. Rashford is clearly playing without confidence but there has been a lack of application at times too. Disciplinary issues off the pitch, including an unsanctioned trip to Belfast, have not helped matters.

His stock is low but he should have a point to prove at Wembley and Manchester City had a reminder of just how dangerous he can be the last time the two sides met, in March, when his sensational long-range strike at the Etihad Stadium put United in front.

Rashford’s goal proved in vain on that occasion but he scored against Pep Guardiola’s side last season too, converting Alejandro Garnacho’s cross to clinch a 2-1 win at Old Trafford.

He is not necessarily guaranteed to be in the team this time. His last visit to Wembley, for the semi-final win over Coventry City, ended in him being booed by some supporters when he was substituted. He hasn’t started since, with Amad Diallo impressing in his absence.

But you suspect Manchester City would be far happier were his name not feature on the team sheet on Saturday. They know the damage he can do. Now would be a timely moment for him to deliver.
Nick Wright

Man City seek Double Double

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Kyle Walker explains the secret behind Manchester City’s four Premier League titles in a row

It may appear diluted in the context of the treble that City won last season, but though they may have missed out on retaining their European crown they can still become the first team to win back-to-back league and cup doubles.

It could be a second piece of history this campaign after they became the first side in English football history to win four straight league titles.

Whatever the outcome, it will be the first time since the 1884/85 season that the final has been contested by the same teams in consecutive seasons, with the most recent pairing having been Blackburn and Scottish side Queen’s Park, with Rovers winning both games.

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Bernardo Silva reflects after Manchester City became the first team to win the English top-flight title four times in a row

City boss Pep Guardiola admitted he will be “closer to leaving than staying” at the Etihad Stadium after next season, following his team’s record-breaking fourth consecutive Premier League title.

Speaking after the 3-1 win over West Ham that sealed the title by a two-point margin from Arsenal, Guardiola said: “My feeling is that I want to stay now. I will stay next season and during the season we will talk. But eight or nine years – we will see.”

The 53-year-old also acknowledged he had considered leaving after last season’s treble success, indicating he felt there was little else left to achieve in the aftermath of the 1-0 win over Inter Milan that won them the Champions League.

That feeling may yet return should City become the first English club to achieve back-to-back league and cup doubles on Saturday, particularly if it turns out to be a precursor to an unprecedented fifth title in a row next term.
Ben Grounds

PS: Other clubs’ European hopes…

Victory for United will mean they take the competition’s Europa League spot but a City win will be good news for two of their league rivals.

Sixth-placed Chelsea stand to qualify for Europe’s secondary competition if Pep Guardiola’s team triumph while Newcastle, who played in the Champions League this season, would take a Europa Conference League berth.

If United win the cup then Chelsea will play in the Conference League and Newcastle will miss out on Europe altogether.

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