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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 18 June 2024

City ready to pounce on ailing neighbours: Odds stacked against United in Manchester derby

On Saturday in the FA Cup final at Wembley, Manchester City will be looking to follow up their own treble last season with a double to underline just how far the pendulum has swung

Reuters London Published 25.05.24, 09:50 AM
Manchester United players, in this picture shared by the club on X, attend a training session on a rainy Wednesday

Manchester United players, in this picture shared by the club on X, attend a training session on a rainy Wednesday X

Twenty-five years ago Manchester United were winning an historic treble while Manchester City were just about clawing their way out of English football’s third tier.

On Saturday in the FA Cup final at Wembley, City will be looking to follow up their own treble last season with a double to underline just how far the pendulum has swung.

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For the second season in succession, United stand in the way of City and another landmark triumph.

Only eight clubs in English history have won the league title and FA Cup in the same season, United managing it three times during their pomp.

But no club has achieved the feat in successive seasons so City, who sealed an unprecedented fourth Premier League title in a row last weekend, have the opportunity to inflict yet another blow to the pride of their neighbours.

Last season United gave City a run for their money despite conceding a goal to Ilkay Gundogan inside 15 seconds, Erik Ten Hag’s side eventually losing 2-1.

This season, however, while City have again looked untouchable, United have regressed and finished eighth in the English Premier League, 31 points behind Pep Guardiola’s side, having scored 39 fewer goals and conceding 24 more.

United also showed their vulnerability as they let slip a 3-0 lead in the semi-final against second-tier Coventry City before winning on penalties to ensure the same two clubs contest the FA Cup final two years in a row for the first time since 1885.

With speculation swirling about Ten Hag’s future, Saturday’s showdown could turn out to be his last hurrah, even if the Dutchman does pull off a masterstroke and add the FA Cup to the League Cup he won his first season in charge.

United are seeking their first FA Cup triumph since 2016 when they beat Crystal Palace and could be boosted by the availability of midfielder Mason Mount.

But they will still start as huge underdogs and will need to produce the sort of display that sunk Liverpool in a quarter-final classic — one of the few highlights in a season of mediocrity for the club.

“There’s always that hope that they will turn up and produce some sort of performance, or moments,” former United treble winner Roy Keane told The Overlap podcast.

“I think they have moments. You still have to have belief if you are a Manchester United player. Are City stronger and better? Yeah, of course, but you still have to believe you can turn up in a cup final.”

For City, Saturday’s clash will be tinged with regret. But for a penalty shootout defeat by Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter finals they could have arrived at Wembley with a consecutive treble very much on the cards.

That was the only blip in a relentless run which has seen them go unbeaten in open play since December 6.

Any United fan hoping Guardiola’s team might let their guard slip after the title celebrations will be sadly mistaken.

“We focus on the club mentality because we are going to need all of them and the lads showed they are ready for every challenge and it’s even more when we’re talking about a final,” defensive lynchpin Rodri said.

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