Preview: Manchester United vs. Manchester City in the FA Cup Final

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On Saturday, May 25, 2023, the FA Cup Final between Manchester United and City will begin at 10 AM ET on ESPN in the United States. It’s a rematch of the championship game from the previous year and only the second time that the oldest soccer competition has ever ended with a Manchester Derby.

Formbooks can be ignored in a Manchester Derby, but based on its current form, this game seems like a David versus Goliath scenario. I chatted with FA Cup finalist turned pundit Craig Burley and renowned commentator Jon Champion to get a sneak peek at the championship match.

Reasons to Watch Manchester United vs. Manchester City in the FA Cup Final

Based on how both teams fought this season, this final should have a single winner. Manchester City won the Premier League for the fourth time in a row, finishing 31 points ahead of Manchester United. The Red Devils, on the other hand, had their lowest-ever Premier League season-ending finish in eighth place. Manchester United conceded more shots than Derby County, who won just one game during the 2007–08 season and even ended with a negative goal differential.

Manchester City defeated Chelsea, Newcastle United, and Tottenham, three other formidable Premier League teams, route to this year’s FA Cup final. Conversely, Jon Champion claims that Manchester United started and played in spurts. After barely defeating Newport County, the Red Devils proved their mettle by eliminating Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool from the tournament. Then, in the semi-final, United quickly led three goals against Coventry City before collapsing in the final twenty minutes of play, giving up three goals and coming dangerously close to losing in extra time before winning on penalties. 

The possibility of a one-sided event, in Jon Champion’s opinion, shouldn’t stop spectators from taking in the end-of-season extravaganza. “I’d just say it’s your chance to put your feet up with a beer and watch what is currently the best football team in the world, Manchester City,” he adds when asked why he thinks people should watch this game. Although United supporters won’t be encouraged by that possibility, it does seem like a fun way to spend a Saturday morning.

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Instead of going into the game with expectations, United supporters must approach it with hope. Champion thinks the Red Devils have a strong opportunity to win, but Craig Burley thinks United can only triumph by going on the counterattack. Perhaps a wounded squad would be even more motivated by the thought of a Manchester Derby and bragging rights over the city. The Red Devils will need to play to the best of their abilities and hope that City has a bad day, though.

The Risk

Manchester United vs. Manchester City in the FA Cup Final, This is Manchester United’s chance to turn things around. It could be the perfect way to cap off a terrible, injury-plagued season for manager Erik Ten Hag, who will almost certainly leave with another title in his trophy cabinet. A defeat, meanwhile, will simply help to solidify the idea that the team is headed in the wrong path and needs to rearrange its roster once more, even with new ownership and a net expenditure of—£594.92 million.

This presents the Noisy Neighbors with another chance to make history. If Manchester City prevails, it will make English history as the first team to win the FA Cup and the Premier League consecutively. If City pulls off the double-double, Champion thinks it will further solidify the idea that “they are the standout side of the modern era.”

Individually, it sets up City’s young talent, Phil Foden, to showcase his skills one last time before Euro 2024. With Kevin De Bruyne out for a prolonged period, Foden has taken the Premier League by storm and already has six trophies to his name. Despite being under 24 years old and having played 300 games for Manchester City, Champion claims that this season, he is “now not just adorning games, he is guiding them.” According to Champion, he would “confirm what all of us suspect, that he is one of the best up-and-coming talents in the world,” with another outstanding performance.

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Erik Ten Hag, meanwhile, has a much less favorable outlook. According to reports from the Guardian, he may not even be able to keep his job if he wins the FA Cup final. Like his fellow Dutchman Louis Van Gaal, who was fired after winning the FA Cup 2016, the Dutch tactician will also be fired. Champion remarked, “I’d be shocked if this isn’t his last game in charge, whatever the outcome,” while Burley referred to Ten Hag as “a dead man walking.” 

Players to Watch

Manchester United supporters will be relieved to learn that Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez are included in their squad for the championship game, given their team’s defensive woes during the season. If healthy, they might provide steel and silk to a backline improvised during the season’s closing months. Casemiro can resume his natural holding midfield position upon their return. However, Burley is dubious that this will benefit United, stating that “it’s not his fault, but his legs have gone.” In the meantime, Varane will be playing his final game for the team, and he will undoubtedly want to add another trophy to his impressive collection.

Bruno Fernandes, the captain who is back, is the key player for Champion United. Fernandes is United’s most skilled player, and despite his many complaints, he feels that United looked adrift without him. Furthermore, he thinks that a few of the team’s younger players, including Alejandro Garnacho and Kobe Mainoo, who he observes are playing fearlessly, will need to stand up for the big game.

Marcus Rashford was one player who hardly came up in the discussion with Champion or Burley. Compared to thirty goals the previous season, the homegrown talent has had a poor season, with just eight goals in all competitions. Erik Ten Hag, his manager, says he might use missing out on the England selection for Euro 2024 last week as an incentive. But Burley adds, “I’m not sure anything can fire this guy up,” suggesting that the Englishman has lost motivation and drive, particularly since landing his last major contract. Whatever the underlying problems with Rashford, this would be the ideal opportunity for him to prove himself, quiet the sceptics, and help his old team end the season with a bang.

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There’s no denying that Foden is the star of the City team this season. Behind him, Rodri keeps proving why he is among the greatest holding midfielders in the league, while Erling Haaland will be a formidable opponent for United up front. Under Guardiola, the entire team still plays intriguing soccer. 

 Manchester United vs. Manchester City in the FA Cup Final
Bruno Fernandez( Getty Image)

Importance of the FA Cup

In contemporary soccer, clubs are driven mainly by the money made in the Premier League and the glamour of the Champions League. Because teams prioritize more lucrative matches, the FA Cup’s worth has decreased, and the “race for the top four” has taken on almost the same importance as the title race or relegation. Even though the FA Cup winner this season will only take home a meagre £2 million, the competition has much greater significance.

Burley describes his stance on the FA Cup as traditionalist. He mentioned that he had watched the competition as a child and that his uncle George and Ipswich had won the Cup. He describes the final as “just a terrific end to the season,” having witnessed the significance of the trophy’s history and playing in the championship game at Wembley for his colleagues, especially the international players.

The FA Cup always delivers something unique, even though the financial considerations have taken away part of the tournament’s shine. Leicester took home the trophy three years prior. Wigan Athletic was demoted from the Premier League and went on to defeat Manchester City in the 2013 title game; this season, Coventry City came close to making it to the championship game.

According to the champion, soccer’s oldest cup competition is still something to be treasured because of its accessibility. At the end of the season, the UK final is a significant showcase that is televised on free-to-air television for all fans to watch. It is being played at the National Stadium, Wembley. It is still an open event and, in a sense, a fan-only game that anyone may play. This is soccer at its purest.

Credit: Forbes