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FA Cup final preview: Ten Hag must defy dreadful record in Manchester derby to save his job

Manchester United will have a chance to claim revenge on Manchester City for last season’s FA Cup final heartbreak when the two sides meet at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

Hoisting football’s oldest cup competition trophy is probably Erik ten Hag’s last chance to salvage his managerial tenure at Man United after a disastrous campaign.

United slumped to their lowest-ranked finish in the Premier League era, ending eighth in the standings and missing out on European qualification. 

The pressure is mounting on the Dutchman, who vowed to bring the trophy to Old Trafford while standing in the centre circle after the final home game.

Standing in his way are Pep Guardiola and his defending FA Cup holders, fresh off lifting an unprecedented fourth consecutive Premier League title only last weekend. 

Guardiola’s high-flyers could put the final nail in Ten Hag’s coffin at Man United amid talks of the INEOS group’s interest in Mauricio Pochettino, with the Evening Standard insisting it’s a ‘matter of time.’ 

Even if his career in Manchester comes to a premature end this summer, the 54-year-old will want to bow out in style, and what better way than denying Man City back-to-back league and cup doubles?

Man Utd’s FA Cup credentials tested repeatedly

Despite facing three lower-league sides in five matches on their road to the 2024 FA Cup final, United’s record-breaking 22nd appearance in the title-deciding fixture hasn’t been plain sailing. 

After a relatively comfortable 2-0 win against Wigan Athletic, the Red Devils had to score twice beyond the hour mark to dispatch fourth-tier Newport County in the fourth round.

Casemiro’s 89th-minute winner was the difference as Man United squeezed past Nottingham Forest in the following round before a nerve-shredding 4-3 extra-time win against Liverpool

Ten Hag’s men refuse to do it the easy way as they dropped a three-goal cushion against Coventry City in a dramatic 3-3 semi-final draw before coming off better in a penalty shoot-out. 

Guardiola a thorn in the Dutchman’s side

The Red Devils have gone above and beyond to set up this tie, handing Ten Hag an opportunity to improve his underwhelming managerial record against Guardiola in his Man United career-defining clash.

Except for a 2-1 home league win in January 2023, the ex-Ajax manager has lost all four Manchester derbies against the Spaniard, including two multi-goal margin defeats in the Premier League this term.

Taking a single point from those encounters would’ve seen United beat Newcastle United to seventh and avoid their worst top-flight finish since 1989/90.

But in search of good omens, Man United won the FA Cup that season. 

That triumph was decisive in throwing Sir Alex Ferguson a lifeline at Old Trafford before he made history, something Ten Hag would be desperate to repeat.

Personnel changes 

Lisandro Martinez had to watch from the stands as Man United lost both league derbies to the Cityzens in 2023/24 due to injury, but he’s now back to the fold. 

With the Argentine fit again and Casemiro starting to adapt to a centre-back role, there’s a feeling United’s chances of avoiding another embarrassing defensive display are growing.

However, the key difference in both Manchester derbies this season was Man City’s supremacy in the engine room, and Ten Hag’s men must find a way to cope with their rivals’ lengthy spells of possession.

Midfield battle is crucial

Kobbie Mainoo could be a breath of fresh air, though this is the youngster’s first grand final, suggesting his senior colleagues should take more responsibility.

Out-of-sorts Christian Eriksen and Scott McTominay should stay on the bench.

Sofyan Amrabat, who’s hit his stride at the season’s backend, could be the muscle that gives Mainoo more room to work his magic. 

If Man United are to avenge recent failures in this fixture, one of Bruno Fernandes or Alejandro Garnacho must step up to the plate, as the Red Devils can’t afford to chase the ball for 90 minutes again. 

This article was written by .

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