KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: Erik ten Hag’s three-card trick to trump Man City… he needs Fred and Casemiro to slam door with explosive tackles – United must pick best passers – and use trickery of Sancho and pace of Rashford
- Latest version of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City is nearing perfection
- Man United don’t have the players to press high and contest possession
- Ten Hag’s side were thrashed 6-3 in October but won the return in January
For the first time ever, Manchester United and Manchester City — two giants of English football — meet in an FA Cup final.
Since the introduction of the Premier League, these great rivals have won a combined 20 league titles in 31 years.
But, surprisingly, they have shared only seven FA Cup triumphs in that time. This year, United have finished in the top four and are chasing a domestic double, whereas City can match their neighbours’ historic treble of 1999.
It is only right and proper to have football’s oldest cup competition as the last day of a domestic season.
As a player, the build-up to this match is a beautiful week, knowing you and your opposition are the only teams left in the hat. Conversely, if we had been knocked out, I had to get as far away from it as possible. I couldn’t bear to watch someone else picking up the trophy.
Casemiro (R) slams the door shut on people with tackles and acts as a springboard to attack
Man United will need the passing skills of Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes (left)
Erik ten Hag, who has worked hard to change the culture at United, would have looked at the various ways to play against this incredibly impressive City team.
He will have realised he doesn’t have the necessary players to press City high and contest possession, for fear of leaving his defenders exposed to the pace of Erling Haaland at the back. I expect United to mostly sit deep and try to win on the counter.
United were taken apart when these sides met at the Etihad in October. Remarkably, Ten Hag chose not to start Casemiro or Fred in that 6-3 defeat.
Significantly, both played in United’s 2-1 victory in January.
Casemiro is one of the best midfielders in world football. He slams the door shut on people with big, explosive tackles and acts as a springboard to attack.
In that victory over City, Ten Hag also picked his best passers — Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes — to compete with City and, even without Anthony Martial, United have the trickery of Jadon Sancho and pace of Marcus Rashford to hurt their rivals.
In January, mindful of the pace of Haaland, Ten Hag picked Luke Shaw as a centre half ahead of Harry Maguire. He may want to add Shaw’s speed in central positions again and reunite him with Raphael Varane, who is a multiple Champions League winner like Casemiro and gives a top-class feel to their spine.
United have the trickery of Jadon Sancho (R) and pace of Marcus Rashford (L) to hurt City
This is the best version of Pep Guardiola’s City we have ever seen. It’s nearing perfection. There is a supreme balance to their team.
In the past, they have been vulnerable to a swift counter-attack. But since Pep’s subtle change — pushing a centre half into midfield rather than a full back — they are less exposed and give the appearance of being almost unbeatable. Strikingly, half of this team are only in their first or second season at City.
Guardiola this week won his third LMA manager of the year award. So focused is this serial winner, he was unable to turn up in person — I assume not wanting any distractions or pats on the back with two thirds of the treble still to secure.
If they manage it, Guardiola will have won 12 major trophies at City. Sir Alex Ferguson won 26 with United. Pep made it clear in his acceptance speech that he will be sticking around to close that gap as much as he can.