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Manchester United's Road to FA Cup Victory: A Triumph for the Ages?

By Alex Al-Kazzaz

This season, Manchester United had its worst finish ever in the English Premier League. Finishing eighth in the standings meant the Red Devils would not be competing in any European competition next season. That is unless they would miraculously beat Manchester City in the FA Cup final. And Manchester United did just that. Against all odds, they upset their local rivals, Manchester City, in a rare Manchester Derby FA Cup final.

In a rematch of last year's FA Cup final, Manchester United won their first FA Cup since 2016 and their 13th overall. As a result, Manchester United will compete in next season's UEFA Europa League and the 2024 FA Community Shield match against current Premier League title holders Manchester City.

Manchester United's road to the FA Cup final

Manchester United had no chance in this game. The injuries, the inconsistencies, the inability to play at a top level, the lack of focus, motivation, etc, nothing was going well for the club. Manchester United just had arguably their worst season in a long time. Manchester City just won their fourth consecutive Premier League Title, becoming the first club to do so, and coming into this game, the Citizens were licking their chops; after failing to retain their UCL title, they were determined to retain their FA Cup.

Last year, Manchester City beat Manchester United to win the FA Cup. Manchester United was adamant about exacting some revenge by dethroning their intensely hated neighbors. This FA Cup triumph is surely one to remember for the ages, not just for Manchester United but for English football overall. Manchester United eliminated Liverpool in the quarterfinals in a spectacular fashion, but their semifinal victory over Coventry City F.C. is marred by controversy, primarily due to VAR after a potential game-winning goal for Coventry City was nullified, and Manchester United went on to prevail in the penalty shoot-out.

The recap

Erik ten Hag took a risk by putting two teenagers in the starting lineup, but it was necessary since both had excelled throughout the season. Surprisingly, Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho were not the front two forwards. Midfielders Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay leading the attacking front with a 4-2-2-2 formation is unexpected, although ten Hag utilized that formation in Manchester United's final two Premier League games, both of which resulted in wins.

Manchester United needed a formation to counter Manchester City's dangerous attack squad. Not surprisingly, Erling Haaland was deployed as the sole striker, with Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, and Bernardo Silva behind. Potentially, it was going to be a long day for Manchester United, but as it turned out, Manchester City's threat proved to be quite ineffective.

Once the game started, Manchester City took control of ball possession and consistently passed the ball around to spot openings for scoring chances. Despite the dominance, Manchester City's efforts seemed futile. Either Manchester United had an answer, or Manchester City did something wrong.

Alejandro Garnacho gave Manchester United the lead in the 30th minute after a massive blunder by Manchester City. About nine minutes later, Kobbie Mainoo doubled the lead with a beautiful goal and great assistance from Bruno Fernandes. After 45 minutes, Manchester United had a very rare 2-0 lead over Manchester City.

Entering the second half, Manchester City made two substitutions. In the 55th minute, Haaland had a chance to put his team on the board, but his shot hit the crossbar. Two minutes later, De Bruyne was taken out in favor of Julián Álvarez, who nearly had a goal in the 64th minute only to miss by a matter of inches. With about 15 minutes left in regulation, the score should have been 2-2. Possibly 3-2 had Kyle Walker converted his chance.

In the 74th minute, Manchester United got away with an alleged foul on Haaland in the penalty area. It's unclear why the referee did not award Manchester City a penalty shot after Mainoo took down Haaland, but regardless, Manchester City was not letting up. Manchester United made two substitutions, and in the 87th minute, Jérémy Doku finally scored for Manchester City. While the Citizens were still in the game, they should have already had a comfortable lead at that point. Manchester United held on, and that was it.

What went wrong for Manchester City?

The inability to score hurt the Citizens. Manchester United goalie André Onana made several great saves, and Manchester United's resilience played out, as they had a total of eleven counter-attacks. A few blunders affected Manchester City, as well, and while they kept the pressure on, they couldn't finish.

Manchester United did miss a few opportunities of its own, but Manchester City's inability to capitalize kept the Red Devils' advantage. When Garnacho scored, the massive blunder committed was argued about, whether it was on the goalie or the defender. Regardless, Garnacho did his job, and it worked out. When Mainoo scored, the Manchester United attack caught Manchester City off guard, and Mainoo was at the right place at the right time. The Manchester United attack didn't allow the opposing defense to get fully set, and they took advantage of it.

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