FA Cup final: 3 key battles that could decide Man City vs Man Utd

They do say that all-Manchester FA Cup finals come around like London buses.

After having to wait 140 years for the first, the second will arrive less than 365 days later. Manchester City and Manchester United will meet again at Wembley on Saturday afternoon.

City’s success in last season’s final was the second step on their way to a historic treble. Ilkay Gundogan’s opener inside 13 seconds set the tone for what was a bleak day for Erik ten Hag’s Red Devils.

Ten Hag’s men once again enter the final against their ‘noisy neighbours’ as the underdog having finished 31 points behind the champions in the Premier League. United’s Dutch manager may well be overseeing his final game in charge of the club on Saturday, and a shrewd coaching performance is required for the 12-time winners to bridge the considerable gap.

Moreover, United must prevail in several key battles to have any chance of lifting the trophy. Here are three that could define Saturday’s FA Cup final.

Bruno Fernandes, RodriBruno Fernandes, Rodri

Rodri will see plenty of Man Utd’s talisman on Saturday / Visionhaus/GettyImages

United have been far from brilliant with Bruno Fernandes in the side this season, but they were ghastly without him in May. Fernandes missed the first two games of his club career through injury as Ten Hag’s side endured a 4-0 battering at Crystal Palace before failing to lay a glove on Arsenal at Old Trafford.

Fernandes may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but he’s United’s talisman, and he’ll be pivotal to any success the Red Devils have on Saturday.

The Portuguese star will have plenty of freedom to roam from a #10 position at Wembley, with City’s superstar holding midfielder, Rodri, likely to see plenty of Fernandes. However, the Spaniard won’t follow United’s skipper when he drifts into wide areas. Rodri’s focus will be taming Fernandes in central positions, limiting his creative influence and preventing him from igniting transitions from deeper zones.

United are rarely successful when Fernandes is quiet, but City can also go off-kilter when Rodri’s rhythm is disrupted. Ten Hag will want his captain to be an absolute pest without the ball on Saturday and never allow Rodri to settle.

Erling Haaland, Jonny Evans, Casemiro, Raphael VaraneErling Haaland, Jonny Evans, Casemiro, Raphael Varane

Man Utd are set to have their preferred centre-back pairing available for the final / James Gill – Danehouse/GettyImages

Haaland didn’t quite reach the astronomic heights of 2022/23, yet he waltzed to another Premier League Golden Boot. He turned it on at crucial points down the stretch.

Haaland has had plenty of success against United since arriving in Manchester, and he benefitted from facing up against make-shift backlines during the Manchester derbies this season. However, United are poised to have Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane available this weekend.

That sets up an intriguing battle between striker and centre-backs, with the United pair set to share the responsibility of nullifying Haaland.

United surely won’t go gung-ho and allow any space for the Nordic machine to exploit in behind. A deeper defensive line is more likely in a bid to minimise the space, so the key duel will arrive in the United box. Haaland’s movement is typically supreme, and the positioning of both Varane and Martinez will have to be top-notch to limit the City striker’s openings.

Aerially, there’s a height mismatch between Haaland and Martinez, so expect Varane to take responsibility there.

Phil FodenPhil Foden

Phil Foden is set to earn PFA Player of the Year honours / Michael Regan/GettyImages

The beauty of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City is that every team feels a little different. Long gone are the days of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling bombing down the flanks, while the prominence of Kevin De Bruyne’s partnership with Haaland last season has made way for the emergence of Phil Foden.

In a team laden with superstars, this iteration of City feels like Foden’s team.

Only Rodri will end up playing for minutes for Guardiola’s side than Foden this season, with the Englishman set to earn PFA Player of the Year honours having recorded 27 Premier League goal contributions.

Foden can operate almost anywhere in advanced areas, but he’s undeniably at his best when working more centrally between the lines. He’s a master of the half-turn, genius in tight areas, and has shown off his ability to strike from distance this term.

Ten Hag is more likely to deploy man-markers than Pep, and he could ask rugged midfielder Sofyan Amrabat, who’s enjoyed a strong end to the season, to take care of Foden. The space havens United typically surrender in midfielder must be absent on Saturday, otherwise, City’s masterful playmakers will wreak havoc in and around the box.

Our FA Cup final sweepstake (UK only). dark. PLAY. FA Cup final sweep


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.