It is unbelievable that Manchester United have reached the FA Cup final, considering the style of football that has become their norm this season. After the ‘fake bomb’ malarkey of last Sunday, United finished their Premier League season with an enjoyable 3-1 home win against Bournemouth. With Manchester City already assured of Champions League football having actually played their final game of the season on Sunday, the match against the Cherries had no importance. The Reds were seemingly given freedom to express themselves, and after a dire first 40 minutes, United opened the scoring with a beautiful move, capped off with Rooney passing the ball into the net. Rashford and Young rounded off the scoring, ending the disappointing season with a convincing win. Things could be somewhat savoured with a FA Cup victory against Palace, who had had a very poor second half to the league season.
Things did not look promising when fans heard that Marcos Rojo was with the travelling squad, and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was not. The Argentine has had his worst month in a United shirt, yet Louis van Gaal has seemingly ignored his poor performances and kept him in the starting eleven. The rest of the line-up was the same as against Bournemouth, apart from the formally suspended Marouane Fellaini re-joining the first team in place of Jesse Lingard, with Juan Mata being shifted onto the wing.
The FA Cup final had been built up as one of the best cups in the world. However, the game did not exactly live up to the billing. Scrappy, disjointed and unimpressive are adjectives that could describe both teams for the majority of the game. United hit the woodwork twice in the second half before conceding to a fantastic Jason Puncheon volley. Only after conceding did the Reds really put the impetus into their game. Three minutes after conceding, Mata scored a crucial equaliser after an impressive Rooney burst from midfield. It took until the 110th minute, in extra time, for Lingard, who came off the bench, to crash home a spectacular volley. The game finished 2-1, and United claimed their 12th FA Cup trophy, matching Arsenal’s record. The performance was not a stellar one, but the cup will mean that van Gaal can leave the club on a high, with rumours stating the Mourinho will take the hot seat as early as next week.
De Gea: 7
Had a solid game in between the sticks. Made a competent five saves, one of which was a crucial stop with his feet from a Dwight Gayle, second half of extra time, shot when the score was still level. The very critical would say that the Spaniard should have covered the near post more sufficiently for Puncheon’s goal, however, that would be very harsh. The Palace man caught the volley so sweetly that, even if De Gea got a hand to it, the ball would have still ended up in the back of the net.
Better than many United fans would have expected, considering his most recent performances. Pretty wasteful going forward and failed to link up with Anthony Martial on the right hand side. Did well at marshalling the dangerous Zaha but picked up a yellow for his troubles. Was substituted for Matteo Darmian on the 66th minute.
Back to his more stable self in the centre of defence. Had a terrible game against West Ham and wasn’t his best against Bournemouth. Controlled the back line against an unpredictable Palace strike force. His clever reading of the game allowed him to intercept dangerous passes, clean up and propel passes forward to his team mates.
Not a good day for the Player’s Player of the season. Won a fantastic eight aerials against the bullish Conor Wickham, but massively let himself and the team down with some very poor decision making. Pulled down Wickham early on, which referee Mark Clattenburg ridiculously failed to play a beneficial advantage for. That earned him a first silly yellow before doing the exact same thing at the midpoint of extra time. Smalling cynically pulled down Yannick Bolasie after having lost out in a one-on-one and left his team mates fending for the cup with ten men on the pitch. Roy Hodgson will hope the English international can pick up his game in time for the Euros.
Typically industrial and safe as usual. Had the highest pass success rate of the back line (85%) but was often caught high up the pitch leaving Smalling and Blind to fend off the pace of Zaha/Bolasie by themselves, leading to both of Smalling’s yellows. While, obviously, not to blame for Smalling’s decision making, Valencia left his flank rather exposed for many fans’ liking. That being said, he provided a fantastic cross for Martial to head onto the post and subdued Bolasie effectively in the second half. His powerful ball into the box was deflected out to Lingard for the winner.
A pretty atypical Michael Carrick performance of late; slow at recycling possession and not defensively capable enough to provide an adequate ‘lone’ shield in front of the back four. Dictated the tempo well and kept United from rushing plays in attack. Came close with a header after a rare scurry forward when pushing for a winner in extra time. Probably his final game at the club after a fantastic ten years with the Red Devils. Good to go out with a trophy.
Impressive throughout the game. Looks dangerous every time the boy gets his foot on the ball. Didn’t complete any dribbles against his opposition, which he will be unhappy about, but provided almost all of United’s attacking impetus. Took six shots, more than any other player on the pitch, but didn’t force the keeper into a single save (all of his shots were off target (1) or blocked (5)). Came agonisingly close by hitting the woodwork with a fantastic header in the second half.
The personification of work horse. Got up and down the pitch all day. Made a fantastic challenge in the first half when his defence was all but beaten and, when the team was struggling to find a breakthrough following Palace’s goal, he charged at the opposition’s defence on a magnificent run and teed up the ball for Fellaini to assist Mata’s equaliser. His passing was poor in the first half but got impressively better as the game wore on. A first FA Cup trophy for Rooney’s already sparkling career.
Many a United fan groaned when the team sheet popped up and the Belgian’s name was read out, but the big bully of a man was actually very effective throughout the game. Was a constant threat from corners and the ball always seemed to end up on his noggin, though often bouncing wildly off it in the wrong direction. Linked up fantastically with Rashford in the second half which led to the scapegoated midfielder crashing his shot against the bar. Nodded the ball, smartly, to Mata for the equaliser and gave Mile Jedinak and run for his money in the elbowing statistical chart (don’t worry, that’s not actually a thing).
If there ever was a game which you would point to and say, “Look! That is why you don’t play Mata as a winger”, this would be the one. Very isolated over on the right; spent most of his time either playing through Valencia for an overlap or passing the ball back to Rooney/Carrick in midfield. However, being the little genius that he is, Mata always ends up being in the right place at the right time. In the first half he forced Hennessey into a tricky save when the ball bounced back to his left peg. In the second half, Mata popped up in the box to drive home Fellaini’s knock down for the equaliser. Picked up a yellow and was substituted shortly after his goal for the energetic Lingard.
A tricky afternoon for the youngster. Had to go searching deep into the channels for the ball, but whenever the Mancunian got in possession with space he looked dangerous. Went on a good run in the first half and nicely set up Martial for a shot. Stretched the Palace back line and harried them whenever they had the ball. His afternoon was unfortunately brought to a close early after Cabaye stepped on his knee, hopefully not causing any lasting damage.
Was more composed at left back than Rojo and, after Smalling’s dismissal, showed that he can prove quite the utility centre back. Nothing to rely on but certainly useful to know.
Brought into the fray on the 72nd minute as a striker, but was hopelessly isolated. Smalling’s sending off pushing Young to left back, allowing Lingard and Martial to play as the attacking two (a much better option than a solo Young).
Boy oh boy. What a way to do it. The Mancunian has been getting stick from a lot of fans on social media stating that he does not have enough quality to succeed at the club. I say to you, firstly, take a look at the FA Cup final winning goal and his goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and tell me that those volleys are not top class. Secondly, this is the boy’s breakthrough season. Yes, at 23 years old he seems to be a late bloomer, but the boy can certainly do a useful job for any United side, as back-up or starting.
Papering over the Cracks
While it is fantastic that Manchester United beat Crystal Palace to lift the FA Cup, there is an air of disappointment around the club. Firstly, the Reds have had an awful season in the league. Secondly, the journey to the cup final have been littered with favourable draws, not a single opponent has been odds on favourites in any tie. And finally, the football was still horrendously poor. Even against Palace, United were arguably lucky to win, against a team which finished 15th in the league… not very promising stuff.
However, on the bright side, Louis van Gaal has won a trophy with the Red Devils in what seems to be his last game as a United manager. The way the season has gone, there could have been no better result than letting the Dutchman leave on a high. He has had an undoubtedly incredible career, but he will not leave Old Trafford branded as a ‘failure’. As for Mourinho, supposedly taking charge as soon as next week, there is not a huge amount to say about the Portuguese manager which has not already been said, other than it will be a very interesting season next year…