Casting your mind back to 1990, Alan Pardew featured in an FA Cup final replay for Crystal Palace against Manchester United following a 3-3 draw in the initial fixture, then went on to lose 1-0. You’d think the Eagles’ boss will be preparing his players for revenge.
Lee Martin scored the only goal that day at Wembley as United were crowned FA Cup champions. On Saturday, however, Louis van Gaal is without his first-choice left-back, as he has been pretty much all season, but recent reports suggest Luke Shaw is back training with the first team eight months after a horror double leg break.
United have not won the FA Cup in twelve years — against Millwall, 2004 — and this is likely to be Van Gaal’s last game as manager. It’s been an underwhelming two years under the Dutchman but a manager of his pedigree deserves to go out on a high, and winning the FA Cup this weekend would do just that.
But Crystal Palace aren’t going down without a fight. Their FA Cup preparations began three weeks ago with Pardew drilling the significance of this fixture into each player’s head, although he doesn’t need to as this will be the peak of most of their playing careers.
And on that note, Juan Mata is the only player in the United dressing room has an FA Cup winners’ medal, which was won in 2012 with Chelsea.
Wayne Rooney was the best player on the pitch in Tuesday night’s Premier League clash against Bournemouth, scoring the opener and playing a part in the other two goals. If there ever was a player that scores in bursts it’s Rooney, so he’s my tip to score first on Saturday with Bet365.
And while Rooney is surprisingly in search of his first FA Cup triumph, United’s best outfield player this season Anthony Martial is looking to win his first honour at the club. If it wasn’t for the France international, joining from Monaco last summer, the Reds wouldn’t be anticipating a final this weekend. Martial’s heroics in the dying moments against Everton in the semi-final was probably the greatest moment of our season and it’s only the start of his career.
Without further ado, the starting eleven from Tuesday night is likely to be the same unless someone picks up a knock during preparations. That itself tells you what to expect performance wise with Van Gaal being his conservative self, but does that mean it will also be Michael Carrick’s final game in a United shirt?
If that decision is up to Van Gaal, then yes. The club would prefer Carrick to be kept on but that’s for the manager to call. Even if Mourinho is appointed this summer, which we fully expect to happen, the Portuguese will need to evaluate his options and question whether the England international fits into his plans. If Carrick remains until August, he will earn an Old Trafford testimonial. Fully earned.
But what a way to go out it would be winning an FA Cup. Carrick has been a superb servant since joining from Tottenham Hotspur in 2006, a year after Roy Keane left, coming in to offer something different in midfield. Gary Neville once described to me as Carrick being a piano, like listening to jazz, whereas Keane was heavy metal. The former United captain offered no preference as to which he preferred playing with because it was about mixture.
Saturday could be the end of a few things at United, but most importantly the end of a trophy drought.