The FA Cup Derby – A Clash of Neighbors


Sanaya Vakharia, Sports Associate Editor

Editor’s Note: This article was written before the conclusion of the match on Saturday, which Manchester City won 2-1. 


At Wembley on Saturday, Manchester United and Manchester City will have played in what was possibly the most anticipated Football Association Cup final in recent memory. It may only be one game, but given the bigger picture of the goal City is pursuing, its significance goes beyond just this weekend. 


In the past couple of years, United’s position as the only English team to ever win the treble — the top-tier league title, the FA Cup, and the European Cup/Champions League — has come under serious threat. Many would also consider City, who won the Premier League last season, to be a lock to match that feat this year. Since they face Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League final a week later, they are strong favorites to win the treble if they can get past United. 


It is fitting, then, that United can have a direct say in the matter. The first-ever major final between the two neighbors will have Pep Guardiola’s side, City, looking to further their all-conquering ambitions, while Erik ten Hag of United, hopes to lift a second trophy in what would subsequently be perceived as a very positive first season, if it isn’t already. 


United defeated Newcastle United to win the English Football League Cup in February, and a victory on Saturday would give them their first ever domestic cup double. But Manchester City is a different animal. They simply elevated their game when it mattered most in the chase for the Premier League championship, compiling 12 straight victories to leave Arsenal in the dust. If they succeed this weekend, they will join just three other clubs who have twice won both the League and FA Cup. 


Though they are traditionally a club accustomed to making it far into the competition, such moments may not be as common for United as they previously were during the era of Sir Alex Ferguson. They play in their 21st FA Cup final, tying Arsenal for the most ever. 


Although losing on Saturday would give them the distinction of losing more FA Cup finals than any other team —nine—, it’s still better to have reached that point than not, isn’t it? 


In either case, United faces a monumental task. City has the most goals —17— in the FA Cup this season and may win the competition without giving up a goal in the final 90 minutes, which no side has accomplished since Bury in 1903. 


Additionally, City dominated our Premier League Team of the Season, with outstanding seasons from Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri, Manuel Akanji, and Ruben Dias. Although they have players like Bruno Fernandes, Casemiro, and Marcus Rashford who may hurt the EPL winners, United did not send a representative. 


Most United fans would hope that a few City stars will miss the weekend, and Guardiola has mentioned Dias, De Bruyne, and Jack Grealish as being among those who are questionable. But given his past performances, it wouldn’t be the slightest bit unexpected to see all three names on the starting XI. 


Anthony Martial and Lisandro Martinez will not be available for Ten Hag, while it is unknown whether Brazilian winger Antony will be available after being taken away on a stretcher after the victory against Chelsea last week. 


This season, City  beat United 6–3  in a game that saw both Erling Haaland and Phil Foden score a hat-trick, though much has changed since that remarkable October head-to-head at the Etihad Stadium. Namely, Ten Hag’s side prevented their rivals doing the double over them, with a 2–1 win at Old Trafford showing United’s progress in terms of team cohesion and tactical adaptability.

Let’s talk about both the teams’ forms. City ended the Premier League season with one point from their final two matches. On matchday 38, Brentford beat them 1–0 to become only the fifth team to complete a league double over Guardiola, after Chelsea (2016-17), Wolverhampton Wanderers (2019-20), Manchester United (2019-20), and Tottenham Hotspurs (2021-22). That was also City’s first defeat since February, ending a 25-game unbeaten run. 


Only Wolves — 21 against Man City in December 2019— and Atlético Madrid —22 vs Barcelona in March 2009 — have ever recorded more shots in a top-flight match against a team managed by Guardiola. Brighton had 20 shots against City four days prior in a 1–1 draw. 


Although some people might have thought it was an unlucky way to end the campaign, how much of it should we truly consider? Few could really blame them for letting up a little since they had already won the Premier League championship. 


However, it does make one wonder how simple it would be to then suddenly turn things around and perform at full capacity in time for the FA Cup final. The luxury of having their position decided before the last game of the season hasn’t been available to United. 


With one game remaining, they qualified for the Champions League, but finishing third and ahead of Newcastle United was obviously a goal as well. Sunday’s 2–1 victory over Fulham ensured that result. 

United finished the season with four straight victories after defeating Marco Silva’s team, a significant improvement after winning only two of their previous seven games inside of 90 minutes. 


While Manchester City may have the advantage in talent, United will come out fighting in what will surely be an entertaining match. 


Image Courtesy of Daniel of Flickr