Preview: FA Cup Final – United vs Crystal Palace

For the first time since 2007, Manchester United will travel to Wembley Stadium in  pursuit of a, now record leveling, 12th FA Cup title. Only Arsenal can boast more victories than United in the Cup, having both equaled, and then broken, that record over the last two seasons. United will be hoping to come away from a truly disappointing season with at least something to smile about.

The FA Cup has proven to be something of a saving grace for Louis van Gaal. Going into the last game of the season knowing 4th position was all but out reach, many other clubs may have cut ties and moved onto another manager with another approach to things. United’s progress in the famous cup has given King Lou something of a stay of execution. Success in the FA Cup may well give him another season to implement his philosophy.

United’s path to the Final has been one navigated with minimal difficulty.  A 1-0 win over Sheffield United in the Third Round, courtesy of a 93rd minute Wayne Rooney penalty, led to a trip to Pride Park on a Friday night, and a 3-1 victory over hosts Derby County in the Fourth Round. Shrewsbury Town were dispatched 3-0 in the Fifth, and United faced their first Premier League opposition in West Ham United in the Sixth Round. United looked down and out when Dimitri Payet dispatched one of his trademark free kicks, however United equalized 7 minutes from time thanks to boy wonder Anthony Martial. A replay at Upton Park saw fireworks as United’s OTHER boy wonder, Marcus Rashford, buried from outside the box, and the human chest himself, Marouane Fellaini, smuggled a second moments later. A late charge from the Irons yielded a consolation, but United hung on, and a trip to Wembley was on the cards.
Everton were all that stood in United’s way, and early signs were that United would not only see safe passage through to the final, but would embarrass the Toffees in the process. Fellaini picked up where he left off by scuffing his effort past Joel Robles, and United led 1-0 at half time. Then, pandemonium. Everton earned a penalty, which gave David de Gea the perfect opportunity to save United for the 1800th in April, however he could nothing about the Chris Smalling own goal which leveled the tie. United looked rattled, but survived wave after wave of Everton attacks. And then, when extra time looked all but certain, the ball fell to Ander Herrera. He was literally wrestled to the ground by Phil Jagielka, but he did not give up. As he fell, he extended his leg ball-wards, and managed to fashion a half chance, which fell to the FIRST boy wonder. The result? See the picture. Bedlam. From the final whistle, to the walk to the station, “TONY MARTIAL CAME FROM FRANCE…”. 92nd Minute. 2-1. Oh how we have toiled for moments like that.

After seeing out a 3 match ban following a fracas that Louis van Gaal described as “only acceptable in sex masochism”, Marouane Fellaini, the oft maligned, yet recently reliable, 8 foot 10 inch chest of a man, is widely expected to start in the centre of the park. In the 3 games Big Felli has missed, United have laboured to a 1-0 win over Norwich, lost 3-2 (after leading 2-1 with 20 minutes left) at West Ham, and are ,at the time of writing, playing out a victory over Bournemouth. One wonders whether United would have been more ready to deal with the physicality of West Ham United with Fellaini in the side, and I’m certain van Gaal laments not having his go-to ball winner available for the run in. He is almost certain to start, after neither Ander Herrera nor Juan Mata have managed to impose themselves on the vacant slot in the centre of the park. Marcos Rojo appears to have picked up an injury in training, and, while he’ll hope to be fit and ready for selection, I certainly do not. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson looks the far more natural left back, and seems more than comfortable whenever he plays. The team almost picks itself, bar one position. In my eyes, the only position worthy of debate is the Right Midfield position. Mata has been deployed there, Lingard is a natural there. My thoughts are that Jesse Lingard will line up at right midfield, with United playing the same Midfield/Forward as the Semi-Final. In all I imagine United will line up as suchLINEUP111463518834380

United’s opposition comes in the form of Crystal Palace, who have seen out a season that threatened to be great, yet fell apart as quickly as it came together. Registering only 2 league wins since Boxing Day, and 12 points in the same period of time, saw Palace go from outsiders for Europa League to relegation candidates in less than a month. As with United, Palace have found the FA Cup to be a welcome distraction from the nightmares of league football. Palace won 2-1 at Southampton in the Third, at 1-0 at home to Stoke in the Fourth, 1-0 and 2-0 at Spurs and Reading in the Fifth and Sixth rounds respectively, before overcoming Watford 2-1 in their Semi Final. Palace will be hoping to win their first major trophy in their 110 year history, and will be keen not see a repeat of their last FA Cup Final. The 1990 FA Cup, against United, no less, ended 3-3 on the day. United won the cup 1-0 in the replay, and Palace have only now managed to match their best ever finish. United managed a 2-0 victory over Palace in their last meeting.

It may be something of a moot point, given it’s a cup final, but for everything we’ve seen this season, to even give van Gaal an argument to stay on this season, this game is a must win. 5th position and a Cup Final is not good enough for a club that has spent close to £250 million over the past 2 years. Nothing but a win will do here. With the rise of Leicester and Spurs this year, Klopp getting a full season at Liverpool, Conte taking over at Chelsea, and Pep Guardiola himself joining the cause at the blue half of Manchester, van Gaal knows that, unless tangible evidence of improvement is shown, he will likely be moved on in favour of a monster he helped create. But that’s for another day…

Kick Off Time: 5.30pm
Venue: Wembley Stadium, London
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Last 5 Games – United: WLWDW
Last 5 Games – Crystal Palace: LWLWL

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Preview: United vs Aston Villa

Cast all expectations aside for this Manchester United team, because, whatever they may be, they will not be met, be they good or bad. In the space of 4 days the fanbase has been subjected both sheer anger and sheer joy; losing 3-0 to Spurs in the Premier League on the Sunday, and defeating West Ham to make the Semi-Final of the FA Cup on the Wednesday. Mr Louis van Gaal manages to survive at least two more weeks. It remains to be seen whether van Gaal will stay beyond the end of this season, but you have to admire the man’s ability to not get fired, despite seemingly being out the door on at least three separate occasions this year alone.

Which brings us nicely onto this weekend’s tie. United return to Premier League action against Aston Villa this Saturday in yet another must-win game. The aforementioned loss to Spurs have left us 4 points behind City, and subsequently 4th place, with only 6 games to go. Every game from here on out is a must win, so get used to me saying that.
Aston Villa find themselves only 15 points off safety at the bottom of the table. I mean, I say “only 15 points”; the only reason they’ve yet to be relegated is because they can technically survive on goal difference, however they need a 20 goal swing, to win every game from now until the end of the season, for Norwich, Sunderland, Newcastle to lose their remaining games, for the sun and the moon to perfectly align on the third Thursday of May, and for hell itself to suffer a terrible freeze. It’s a tough fight, but one I’m sure they’re up for. Villa have opted, however, to tackle this task without a proper manager. Despite my best attempts, they were unmoved when I offered them my services a couple of weeks ago. I would have kept them up.
Unlike Spurs last week, Aston Villa are a side with absolutely no verve, no cutting edge, not even a backbone. Years of mistreatment have left the club a shell of what it once was. The rot set in around 2009, and all ambition appears to wither and die in its wake. A side steeped in history, who once threatened to shake up the once consistent “big four” of United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea on multiple occasions appeared to settle for mid-table, and the club has suffered. The best this side can offer, in reality, is one Carles Gil, and that’s really stretching it. Villa, honestly, have nothing of any desire to anyone outside of the bottom half of the Championship. The promise of Jack Grealish has gone as quickly as it arrived, Scott Sinclair is as effective at Villa as he was at City, and behind a back four assembled from blu-tac and paperclips is a goalkeeper so error prone he’d make Mingolet look like a world beater by comparison. United will have no shortage of opportunities to score, something incredible to think about when you remember we’ve scored only 39 times in the league.

Coming off the back of a win like the one in mid-week makes you all the more frustrated at what this side has achieved this season. West Ham have been very good all season long, and to not only beat them away from home, but to in relative comfort, it quite the task. One that, after the Spurs game, many thought United weren’t up to. And yet here we are. Hopes of a trophy renewed, and hopes of putting together a top-4 worthy run also. A big win against Aston Villa, knowing City play an inconsistent Chelsea side only hours later would be a huge step in the right direction.
There cannot be many changes van Gaal can make to this side, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t make them anyway. Herrera capped a so-so performance with a foot injury, which led to Mark Noble literally carrying him off the pitch, and likely will not be risked with the run in we have. Fellaini, for all his faults, played well on Wednesday night, capping his “actually pretty alright” showing with a goal. A winning goal, no less. Marcos Rojo continued the trend of playing pretty poorly for an hour before being replaced, expect that to continue, and his right back counterpart, Tim Fosu-Mensah, was outstanding in keeping the livewires withing the West Ham machine from snapping into life. I can only see one change being made, and that is Mata for Herrera, with Fellaini being asked to play a slightly deeper role.vs villa
I really cannot expand on the game from there. United met Villa at Villa park on the only Friday Night football match in Premier League history (so I believe), which ended 1-0 thanks to an Adnan Januzaj screamer (tap in). You can relive that performance with my stunning write up here.

This is a game you expect United to win. Win the game, send Villa down, put a bit of pressure on City. That’s all we ask.

Preview: United vs Liverpool

Another blog post, another apology. Sorry for disappearing for a while, United for it handed to them by Swansea, then the emotional rollercoaster that was Transfer Deadline Day, in which David de Gea was a Real Madrid player, if only Real had remembered to tell FIFA about the transfer, before the International Break rendered any review I did obcelete. So I won’t be reviewing that game. Sorry. I’m back now, though, so, lucky you.

In reality, this game barely needs looking at in depth. A tie between two of the bigger names in English Football history, United and Liverpool rank 1 and 2 in terms of success, and they won’t let anyone forget it. Liverpool have been irrelevant in the title picture for all but 2 seasons in the last 15 years, whereas United are in a position where they could legitimately go without a Premier League crown for the next 5 years. In the context of this game, it could be seen as an early “battle for fourth” indicator, if not for the history between these clubs. Make no mistake, for the fans, this is a massive tie. On a personal level, I’d rather win this game than any other. I know far more Liverpool fans than any other club, so, for purely selfish reasons, this is the most important game of the season for me.

And I guess it helps we were so inept against Swansea. This side have a lot to prove. van Gaal has a lot to prove. Game number 5 and questions have started to be asked given United’s less than stellar start to the season. What better way to since any critics by getting one over a storied rival? The United faithful will hope for a repeat of the performances that saw the Scouse positively dismantled at Old Trafford 3-0, and at Anfield 2-1. This is one occasion, however, where no one will care for the performance so long as we end the day with an extra 3 points.

Squad wise, Real Madrid’s number 1 David de Gea SHOULD return to the starting line up. The poor kid has spend a month in the stands, and witnessed Serge con his way through game after game, before coming unstuck against Swansea. Dave offers another level of security behind the back four, and it would be stupid not to play him at this point.
The club puts on its own player of the month competition, and August’s nominee’s were made up of 3 of the back 4. An unchanged defence comprised of Darmian-Smalling-Blind-Shaw should line up on Saturday evening. I would like to take this opportunity to express my doubts over Daley Blind as a centre back against the bigger centre forwards. Bafetimbi Gomis is no mug, but there are better forwards than him in this league, and he had Blind for breakfast in the Swansea game. Improvement is a must in the forthcoming weeks, otherwise a change will be necessary.

Can we please see a return of the midfield 3? I’m starting to think our scoring woes are because we have too many players trying to play in the same space. A lot of this could be sorted by removing the Central Attacking Midfielder and going back to the 4-3-3 that saw us play our best football last season. Preferably, a midfield of Carrick sitting, with Handsome Morgan and either the Deuscher Fußballmeister or Ander Herrera slightly more forward, with Memphis and Mata on either side of Rooney.
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This won’t happen, though. Things are never that simple. We’ll stick with the 4-2-3-1, and Carrick and Schneiderlin will hold. What makes it slightly more interesting, however, is what we’ll do going forward. Memphis, Mata, and Rooney will remain, but it’s the 4th option that will intrigue. Herrera didn’t have anything close to a good game against Swansea, which certainly doesn’t go in his favour. He’s adored in the terraces, however, and van Gaal may be inclined to keep him, if nothing else to keep the fans onside.
He may want to give Fellaini his first start, however. Fellaini’s bullish nature would give United a brute against Liverpool’s clownish centre half Dejan Lovren, as well as someone to at least hold the play up while Rooney charges about the park. Fellaini still has a number to critics to convince in regards to his true purpose, and it doesn’t help we tend to lump it to him when he’s on the pitch. van Gaal may see otherwise, and I fully expect him to opt for Fellaini, personally.
But where does this leave the new next best thing? Young Anthony Martial made the switch from Monaco on deadline day for anywhere between £35 million and £65 million, depending where you look. I’m not gonna pretend like I know anything about him, but so called experts are confident he will prove he’s worth every penny. I would say that it’s too soon to throw him in right away. Let the kid have a bedding in period. It can’t be easy to move country, but to do it at 19 takes guts. Let’s hope he succeeds. Just don’t throw him I straight away.
As such, I fully expect United to line up like this on Saturday evening.

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Liverpool have had another season of big spending, however they appear to have been more concentrated in their efforts, targeting players that offer a genuine upgrade over what they had previously. Out go Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic, and in come Christian Benteke and James Milner; two established Premier League names that can offer more improvement to a side that ended last season with a 6-1 loss to Stoke City. Liverpool have managed to muster 7 points from a possible 12, dropping points away to both Arsenal (0-0), and West Ham United (0-3), and have hardly looked convincing in their victories. The lack of their “genuinely actually pretty good” star Philippe Coutinho (through suspension) this week will be huge for the United defence as they aim to keep a stuttering attack from exploding into life.

Both sides are coming off the back of tough losses, and will see this as a perfect opportunity to get back on track. I’d make United slight favourites, but there might be an element of bias to that. That said, both teams will view this as a must-win, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up cancelling each other out.

Prediction: United 1-1 Liverpool