The domestic season finally ends on Saturday with its signature showpiece – The FA Cup final; but is a victory for Manchester United and Louis Van Gaal enough to save the Dutchman’s job?
It’s been a familiar narrative to United’s season with Van Gaal lurching from one crisis to another and the preparation for the FA Cup final has been no different. Rumours are rife about José Mourinho taking the helm come the summer with United even going as far as to guaranteeing the job for José should Van Gaal leave. With the failure of securing Champions League for next season, the pressure certainly is on for LVG to secure United’s first FA win since 2004.
One positive to emerge from United’s season however is the apparent strength of next batch of academy graduates. The likes of Paddy McNair, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah hint at a bright future for United’s defence. Whilst the obvious name to mention here is Marcus Rashford who seemingly as the world at his feet and an incredibly bright future at Old Trafford.
It was in those moments of injuries and suspensions that forced Van Gaal’s hand into fielding a younger, more vibrant side that Manchester United seemed to recapture a little bit of the magic that made them so successful under Ferguson. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how Van Gaal decides to set up his Manchester United side for a game that may come to define his tenure. Will he blend youthful verve with experienced heads? Or potentially use the likes of Fellini, Carrick and Rooney has a centre forward that has become so indicative of United’s more than lacklustre displays.
Crystal Palace have also had a far from comfortable season. By Christmas, Alan Pardew could have gone on to manage Brazil. Palace were in the top 6, playing bright and dynamic football. Come 2016 and the sparkle vanished as they toiled and laboured to safety, confirming their top flight status with a mere handful of games remaining.
Whilst I can’t claim to have watched a whole lot of Crystal Palace this season, it seems obvious that they just don’t a 15 goals a year striker. Connor Wickham, for all his strength and ability to bring players into the game, just doesn’t score enough to warrant being a no.1 striker at a Premier League club. Beyond Wickham, we have Fraizer Campbell, Marouane Chamakh and Dwight Gayle to name just three options that Pardew can call on when the going gets tough. Hardly striking fear to the opposition defence is it?
For Palace fans, the lack of goal scoring talent would have been a concern all season, especially when they have creativity in abundance. Yannick Bolasie, Wilfred Zaha, Jason Puncheon and the enigmatic Yohan Cabaye, when all in good form, are an enviable creative quartet for a team that optimistically looks towards the top 8 at the start of the season. Pardew has toyed with using Bolasie as a no.9 and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see once more Crystal Palace lining up without a conventional striker on Saturday evening.
When these teams met in the league, Manchester United most recently won 2-0 at Old Trafford whilst way back in October, both teams contested a rather dour 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park. What is more indicative of this Crystal Palace side is that since the turn of 2016, they have just two league victories to their name and whilst this may be the FA Cup, form is always a good indicator going into a match.
Expect Manchester United to dominate possession from the off and with the likes of Darmian and Marcos Rojo fit once more, Louis Van Gaal has selection issues for the first time in a little while. An early goal for United could kill this game off however before it has really begun.
The longer that goal eludes United however, the more Palace and their fans will feel that maybe, just maybe, it’s Pardew’s time to shine.
Crystal Palace: Speroni, Kelly, Dann, Delaney, Souaré, Jedinak, McArthur, Puncheon, Cabaye, Zaha, Bolasie
Manchester United: de Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Carrick, Mata, Rooney, Lingard, Rashford, Martial
Match Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-3 Manchester United
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog