The 142nd FA Cup final will see a Manchester derby take centre stage for the first time beneath the famous arch of Wembley Stadium as treble-chasing Manchester City lock horns with bitter rivals and EFL Cup winners Manchester United on Saturday afternoon.
While the Citizens are seeking to lift England’s oldest trophy for the seventh time in their history, the Red Devils are hoping to get their hands on the prestigious prize for a 13th time.
Four years on from winning the first-ever domestic quadruple in English football, history beckons once again for Man City as they endeavour to become the first English team since rivals Man United in 1998-99 to win the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in the same season.
EYE ON THE TREBLE
The Citizens already have one trophy in the bag after clinching the top-flight title for a third successive year and for a fifth time in six seasons, with Pep Guardiola‘s side ending the Premier League campaign five points clear of their nearest challengers Arsenal.
With one eye on their pursuit of the treble, a much-rotated City side were beaten 1-0 at Brentford in their final league fixture of the season last Sunday, a result that ended their exceptional 25-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
Nevertheless, Guardiola has wisely managed the minutes of his first-team stars over the last two weeks and hopes they have taken his advice on briefly ‘disconnecting’ from the rigours of their hectic schedule in preparation for Saturday’s behemoth battle with their bitter rivals.
FOCUS ON THE FA CUP
A journey to Istanbul for a Champions League showpiece event with Inter Milan awaits in a weeks’ time, but Man City’s focus is now on the FA Cup and their 12th final in the competition.
Man City have seen off Chelsea, Arsenal, Bristol City, Burnley and Sheffield United to book their Wembley appearance, with Guardiola’s side yet to concede in this year’s competition.
The Citizens, who are also the highest scorers in this season’s FA Cup with 17 goals, have a perfect record in major domestic cup finals under Guardiola – winning five in total since his arrival in 2016 – although they have lost four of their last six visits to Wembley and have failed to score in three of those.
The carrot of FA Cup glory against Man United to boost their treble hopes is certainly alluring, but Man City will not take their opponents lightly after losing 2-1 at Old Trafford in the most recent derby showdown in January.
UNITED IN BUOYANT MOOD
Indeed, Man United enter their 21st FA Cup final – the joint-most of any team in the competition’s history along with Arsenal – in buoyant mood after winning their last four Premier League matches to secure third place and Champions League football for next season, albeit finishing 14 points behind champions Man City.
After beginning the 2022-23 campaign with harrowing losses to Brighton and Brentford back in August, few would have envisaged Man United bouncing back in such impressive fashion, and after guaranteeing a top-four finish, Erik ten Hag is seeking to steer the club to their first-ever domestic cup double.
The Dutchman ended United’s six-year trophy drought by guiding his team to EFL Cup glory at the end of February and the Red Devils will certainly take great pleasure in halting Man City’s pursuit of the treble by winning the FA Cup on Saturday.
Man United are competing in their first FA Cup final for five years after successfully navigating their way past Everton, Reading, West Ham United, Fulham and Brighton.
Only Arsenal (14) have ever won the FA Cup on more occasions than Man United (12), although the latter do hold an unwanted record for the joint-most defeats (eight) in the competition’s showpiece event along with both Chelsea and Everton.
Man United will, on this rare occasion, head into Saturday’s final as slight underdogs having lost three of their last four derby clashes with Man City by an aggregate score of 12-4, including a heavy 6-3 Premier League defeat earlier this season.
However, they can take some inspiration from their FA Cup head-to-head record with the Citizens as they have won five of the last six meetings with their noisy neighbours, most recently winning 3-2 away from home in January 2012 – the only exception being a 1-0 semi-final loss at Wembley in 2010-11.
WHO’S IN AND WHO’S OUT
Nathan Ake started against the Bees and played for just over an hour on his return from a hamstring injury, and the Dutch defender is in contention to retain his place on the left side, while John Stones is set to return and take up his hybrid midfield role alongside Rodri.
Captain Ilkay Gundogan is set to return in centre-midfield, and Bernardo Silva will likely battle with Phil Foden and Mahrez for a spot on the right wing, while goal machine Erling Braut Haaland will lead the line and seek to increase his astonishing goal tally of 52 in all competitions.
As for Man United, Anthony Martial has been ruled out with a hamstring injury and is joined in the treatment room by Lisandro Martinez (foot), Marcel Sabitzer, Donny van de Beek (both knee) and Tom Heaton (ankle).
However, Antony has a “good opportunity” to recover in time for the final according to Ten Hag. The Brazilian is unlikely to be thrown straight back into the first XI, though, so Alejandro Garnacho and former Man City youngster Jadon Sancho will most likely occupy the flanks.
Left-back Luke Shaw is fit to return to the starting lineup after recovering from a minor back issue.
Whether we see an end-to-end classic or a more closely-fought contest remains to be seen, but Guardiola and Ten Hag should have few problems motivating their players for arguably the biggest Manchester derby in history.
One of these teams is guaranteed to lift a second trophy of the season, but we believe that the superiority that Man City possess in all departments, particularly in attack with the presence of Haaland, will come to the fore, with sky blue ribbons to be attached to this year’s FA Cup.
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Ake; Stones, Rodri; Bernardo, De Bruyne, Gundogan, Grealish; Haaland
Manchester United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Lindelof, Shaw; Casemiro, Eriksen; Sancho, Fernandes, Garnacho; Rashford