‘Wembley, Wembley, we’re the famous Man United and we’re going to Wembley!’ And so they will. For the second time in three seasons, Manchester United will be partaking in the final of the FA Cup.
What a game this was. Despite Spurs starting out as the better of the two teams in both halves, United fought their way back into it and gritted their teeth in.
The Red Devils’ record against the big clubs this season has been overlooked a number of times, but there was nowhere else to turn this time round. When it mattered most, they turned up once again and made the night their own, much to the dismay of the Spurs fans, whose wait for a first major trophy in a decade carries on another year.
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Dele Alli’s opener was cancelled out by Alexis Sanchez’s equalizer, before Ander Herrera booked United’s return to Wembley next month with a rasping low drive. Here are five talking points from the semi-final showdown:
1. Spurs’s fast start followed by a slow crumble
The last time these two sides faced off at Wembley, it took Spurs a little under a minute to find themselves in front through Christian Eriksen. They were utterly dominant in that game too, and held on to the momentum from the opener to win 2-0.
While it wasn’t quite as fast a start as that game, they were just as dominant at the beginning of both halves in this one. They enjoyed upwards of 70% in possession in the opening 10 minutes, and when Alli put them ahead in the 11th minute, it looked set to be a repeat of what we saw at the start of February.
However, almost immediately after the first went in, they seemed to take their foot off the gas, and United were allowed to gradually grow into the game. Despite missing a handful of chances to make it 2-0, they started to relinquish the early stranglehold they had, and were soon made to pay for it when Paul Pogba’s cross found the head of Sanchez and parity was restored.
Pochettino’s men began the second half pretty much the same way. They dominated possession, created numerous chances with no end product, and ultimately slowed down, allowing United back into the game, and Ander Herrera made them pay yet again with the decisive finish. Still a lot of work to be done.
2. Fans left scratching heads at questionable team selection from Pochettino
Spurs had a big part to play in their own demise, but a number of fans had felt they had already shot themselves in the foot with Pochettino’s team selection.
The Argentine opted to leave out Hugo Lloris and Toby Alderweireld – the club’s best goalkeeper and defender respectively – for the biggest game of their season, and fans were understandably left scratching their heads wondering what their manager was thinking.
3. United’s big players step up to the plate
The semi-final of a prestigious trophy – a chance to take away some credit from what has otherwise been a season of progress that has been overshadowed by the sheer brilliance of their cross-town rivals.
These are the games that matter. These are the games where you need your best players to step up and show just why they are handed such a title amongst the other members of the first team squad, and why their club pays them so much money to play for them. These are the games where those players show their worth, and that is exactly what Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez did.
So often this season, the duo has been criticized for not showing up and playing as if ‘they were on a school playground’ having a kickabout with their mates. However, when United needed saving, for the second time in the last three weeks, they showed up to the party and made their VIP status known.
Two weeks ago, the duo combined brilliantly to come from two behind against City and win 3-2 to prevent them from winning the title on derby day. Against Spurs in the semi-final, they did it again, but swapped positions, as Pogba laid on the assist for Sanchez to score the equalizer.
Both players started the game slow, but were instrumental to their side growing back into the game, and were absolutely magnificent from then on, constantly making their presence felt by either tracking back or going forward. Mourinho called for a special performance from them before the game, and he will not have been disappointed.
A special mention to the ever reliable Ander Herrera, who Mourinho always seems to trust on the big occasion. The midfielder always plays with his heart on his sleeve, and got stuck in a number of times at Wembley. Despite a slow start, he kept his team ticking and put his all into his goal, which turned out to be the winner. He may come into criticism for the way he conducts himself on the pitch sometimes, but there was absolutely no questioning his commitment here at Wembley. Brilliant player.
4. Jesse Lingard must start the final
There are times certain players can go under the radar if their performances are overshadowed by either a brilliant goal or assist by one of their teammates, and it is pretty fair to say that Lingard’s display was just that.
He might not have had a decisive touch in either of his side’s goals, but there was absolutely no question that he was one of the silent standout performers on the night. He was always there to link up play, and his running between the channels was an absolute nightmare for the defense. He creates so much space and confuses the opposition with his running. He makes his teammates think differently, and gives them new ideas when he pops up in unexpected areas of the pitch. Spurs just couldn’t live with him.
It is absolute genius, and a proper scary prospect to defend against. On so many occasions this season, he has been the one shining light and a constant energetic presence in this team. It is a must that he starts the final.
5. The Stats Game
Statistics can either be something to show off or a massive burden to carry around, and unfortunately for Tottenham, their part of the numbers game falls into the latter category.
The defeat to United meant Spurs have now lost the last eight consecutive FA Cup semi-finals they have been in. While Mauricio Pochettino’s transformation of the club has seen the Lilywhites become a force to be reckoned with once more in England, there is still absolutely nothing to show for the progress he has made with this team since his arrival at the club. Spurs have not won a single trophy in ten years now – their last coming in a 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the League Cup back in 2008.
United, on the other hand, are in their second FA Cup final in three years. The club had previously gone 12 years without lifting the trophy, but have seen quite an improvement in the competition in recent seasons. Jose Mourinho will hope to guide them to victory in the final, and if he is successful in doing so, he will carry on a remarkable record of winning at least one trophy in every single year of his career as a manager.
If United do win the FA Cup again, they will once again join Arsenal as the most successful team in the competition. They currently have 12 titles to their name, as opposed to current holders Arsenal’s 13.
P.S: Where was Harry Kane? Wembley’s Twitter account certainly doesn’t want to know…
As mentioned in one of the aforementioned points, you always want your biggest players to show up in the biggest game of your season. So where exactly was Harry Kane? The man whose shoulders England’s World Cup dreams are said to be resting upon put on a no-show at Wembley. Despite the fact that he was almost invisible, he still turned out to be the star of the show…to the twitter memers at least.
If anyone says Kane they’re getting blocked https://t.co/SZCEQJymG6
— Wembley Stadium (@wembleystadium) April 21, 2018
Wembley’s official twitter account put out a question on Twitter asking its followers which of the three goals scored was the best. After Kane’s shenanigans at Stoke recently, where he swore on his life that he had touched the ball in a goal that was initially handed to Christian Eriksen before Tottenham pleaded with the FA to award it to the Englishman, there really was only one reply they could have expected.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if the person handling the stadium’s twitter account realizes how the internet works, and another tweet was soon put out referencing the earlier tweet stating that anyone who said Kane’s name would be blocked. As expected, fans immediately replied to the follow up tweet with Kane’s name, or pictures of Kane without stating his name and so on. What a hilarious mess.