On Sunday, Erik ten Hag’s message was clear: Manchester United have what it takes to win the FA Cup and end Manchester City’s hopes of a historic treble.
There are, however, certain ingredients necessary for United to hope to triumph at Wembley on Saturday.
Fans must “have their backs”. Players must reach ‘their levels’. And a Ten Hag chose not to mention it – he must have his tactics well in hand.
In October, United were humbled at the Etihad, where they were lucky enough to suffer only a 6-3 defeat at the hands of Erling Haaland and Phil Foden.
Three months later, however, Ten Hag’s side overthrew City at Old Trafford. It was a 2-1 win that hinged on a controversial offside decision, but became a powerful statement in Ten Hag’s debut season.
Here, Mail Sport look at the lessons United have learned from that defeat and win and how they can end City’s hopes of a treble….
Erling Haaland and Phil Foden scored hat-tricks in a 6-3 victory for Man City in October
Manchester United can learn from that loss as well as their 2-1 win over City at Old Trafford in January (pictured) ahead of today’s FA Cup final at Wembley
KEEP YOUR HEAD IN THE GREAT MOMENTS
There is no doubt that Bruno Fernandes’ controversial equalizer marked a turning point in United’s victory at Old Trafford. But that’s only because City allowed it.
Guardiola’s side were ahead and on course for three crucial points. But with an offside call, the visitors grew furious and exhausted. And then, shortly after, they were also behind.
United caught cold at City. Amidst all the noise, emotion, frayed tempers and frenetic scenes, City was overrun.
Now, Ten Hag can’t plan for such controversy or such luck. But his players can prepare to deal with those inflection points, when games threaten to turn one way or the other.
At Old Trafford, they took that chance and enjoyed a slice of good fortune. They kept their cool as the town leaders scrambled. In the white heat of Saturday’s final, similar rifts will appear and it will be up to both teams to deal with them.
Erik ten Hag’s side kept a cool head in the January clash, and he and Guardiola will be determined to ensure their sides win Saturday’s mental battle.
TRUST WAN-BISSAKA TO KEEP CALM GREALISH?
Not so long ago, Aaron Wan-Bissaka slipped into the shadows. He had only survived the summer transfer window thanks to a lack of offers. His days at Old Trafford seemed numbered.
Since the turn of the year, however, the 25-year-old has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance, taking over the right-back position from Diogo Dalot.
It means Wan-Bissaka is set to take on Jack Grealish on Saturday in what could be a brilliant fight between one of European football’s in-form wingers and one of the Premier League’s best one-on-one defenders. .
Dalot would offer Ten Hag more attacking thrust, but Wan-Bissaka’s greater discipline and tackling could help United string down one of City’s main threats. Grealish scored at Old Trafford in January. Can Wan-Bissaka shut him up this time?
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has enjoyed a return to form this season and is set to take on Jack Grealish in what could be a brilliant fight between two players currently at the top of their game.
STICK OR TWIST IN THE MIDDLE OF PITCH?
Casemiro left a huge hole in United’s midfield as he started the 6-3 loss on the bench. Predictably, he started the return match, but Ten Hag still created an upset by picking Fred as well. The two Brazilians played side by side in the back of United’s midfield – a combination United had only used in two Premier League games before. And a Ten Hag has only turned four times in the league since then, too.
The benefits are obvious: Fred and Casemiro can patrol the areas between the lines where City’s brilliant midfielders – Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva et al – like to find space and wreak havoc. The cost? One of United’s most attacking players has to make way.
Interestingly, Ten Hag deployed Casemiro alongside Fred against Fulham on the final day. Will this serve as a dress rehearsal for this weekend?
Fred played alongside Casemiro against Fulham and the pair could be the best partnership to patrol Man City’s array of brilliant midfielders
BACK SHAW TO CHAIN HAALAND AGAIN?
There weren’t a few raised eyebrows in January, when Ten Hag picked Luke Shaw at center back.
It looked like a square peg in a round hole just as the Premier League’s deadliest striker swept across town. But Shaw was immense as United triumphed and Erling Haaland blanked.
He has also played there since, and the England international is one of many players to have reached new heights under their Dutch coach.
In recent games, the absence of Lisandro Martinez has seen Ten Hag choose Victor Lindelof alongside Raphael Varane, with Shaw at left-back.
Shaw and Varane both started on the bench against Fulham, with Harry Maguire and Tyrell Malacia coming on. The two will return to Wembley but will they be side by side at centre-back?
Shaw is such an asset on the left for United and his last two league appearances as centre-back have ended in defeat – against Brighton and West Ham. So it would surely be a bold move for Ten Hag to bring him back there for such a crucial game.
Luke Shaw kept Erling Haaland quiet when the teams clashed at Old Trafford in January