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Manchester United should be able to find the back of the net, but denying their rivals the trophy will be difficult.
Back Manchester City to win and both teams to score. (+176)
In English soccer, the treble has always been associated with Manchester United. They are the only club to have achieved the feat of winning the Premier League title, the FA Cup, and the Champions League in the same season.
That accomplishment was back in 1998/99. Teams like Inter, Bayern Munich, and Barcelona have won the equivalent of a treble in Italy, Germany, and Spain respectively, but United remain the only team to have done so in England.
That may no longer be the case in 10 days’ time. Manchester City wrapped up the Premier League title in May, claiming the prize for the fifth time in the last six years. They are also through to the finals of the FA Cup and the Champions League; they will face Inter in the latter on June 10.
There is little doubt that City are the strongest side in Europe. If the continent’s best teams competed in the same 38-game league, Pep Guardiola’s men would almost certainly come out on top.
But knockout soccer is a different beast, which is why City cannot take anything for granted. One sub-par showing in either of their upcoming finals could see a trophy go elsewhere, thus ending their treble dreams.
Manchester City have not had an entirely straightforward route to the FA Cup showpiece, despite what their critics might suggest. True, they did face Championship side Sheffield United in the semi-finals, before which they eliminated Burnley and Bristol City - both also from the second tier.
But Guardiola’s men could easily have been eliminated in the third round (when they faced Chelsea) or the fourth (when they did battle with Arsenal). Yet City have been dominant throughout, winning their five prior ties by an aggregate scoreline of 17-0. They will be tough to stop on Saturday.
Manchester United will not be short of motivation this weekend. For starters, their supporters will be desperate to stop Manchester City winning the treble. That would preserve the uniqueness of the 1998/99 team’s achievement. The usual local bragging rights are also up for grabs.
More broadly, an FA Cup triumph would make this a very successful debut season for Erik ten Hag, whose tenure began with back-to-back defeats by Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford. United have already won the EFL Cup and they recently secured a top-four finish in the Premier League. Another piece of silverware would make this a pretty good campaign all in all.
Needless to say, United will not be happy with only domestic cups going forward. They have still not mounted a genuine title tilt since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. That must be the aim next term.
But for the first time in the post-Ferguson era, there is a feeling that United have a head coach who is not either out of his depth (David Moyes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) or past his best (Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho). Ten Hag has reunited the club this season, and an FA Cup victory would be the icing on the cake.
United squeezed past Brighton in the semi-final, eventually getting the better of Roberto De Zerbi’s team on penalties. Before that they dispatched Fulham, West Ham United, Reading, and Everton - curiously, all by the same 3-1 scoreline.
There is no doubt that United are the underdogs on Saturday, but Ten Hag’s post-match speech after last weekend’s defeat of Fulham showed that he is up for the fight. United fans will hope that the Dutchman’s defiant attitude rubs off on his players.
Manchester City are the favorites to come out on top this weekend. There are good reasons for that. They finished 14 points clear of Manchester United in the Premier League.
They have looked formidable in recent months, brushing aside some quality teams like Arsenal, Liverpool, RB Leipzig, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid. Erling Haaland, the best goalscorer in world soccer, has given a team that was already superb another dimension.
It is by no means a foregone conclusion, though, and United do have some hope. For instance, we fancy their chances of finding the back of the net. They did so in both league games against City, despite losing 6-3 at the Eithad Stadium (United won the reverse fixture 2-1).
Moreover, Ten Hag’s men did not draw a blank in any of their last four Premier League games, while Marcus Rashford’s return to full fitness is a major boost. Antony and Jadon Sancho have also stepped up in recent times, even though neither has managed to be consistent this term.
However, denying Manchester City victory will probably be a bridge too far. Guardiola’s side have been playing some sensational soccer of late, and United’s record away from Old Trafford against the bigger teams leaves a lot to be desired.
With that in mind, our preferred wager for the FA Cup final is a Manchester City win and both teams to score.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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