FA CUP PREVIEW: The Road to Wembley

There’s not much time remaining until Manchester City go head-to-head with Manchester United under the famous Wembley Arch. Despite the train strikes that will make the commute difficult, a packed-out crowd is expected on Saturday.

We’ve looked back through both sides’ respective journeys to get to the final, identifying key players that could be the gamechangers and write their name amongst the stars by lifting the silverware. Let’s not forget – if Manchester City win, they’ll be on course to secure the treble a week later in Istanbul.

Manchester City

The Journey

R3: Manchester City (4 – 0) Chelsea

As Premier League clubs, both Manchester City and Chelsea entered the FA Cup in the third round – where they’d face off against eachother. Pep Guardiola’s side were the clear favourites ahead of kickoff, but nobody could have expected the utterly dominant performance that his side produced. Riyad Mahrez’s opener was swiftly followed by a penalty converted by Julián Álvarez – and Phil Foden managed to make it 3-0 before the break. A late penalty gave Riyad Mahrez the opportunity to make it four from the spot, and the Algerian made no mistake.

R4: Manchester City (1 – 0) Arsenal

Up next for Pep Guardiola’s side was an enthralling fourth round tie against fellow title contenders, Arsenal. With these two sides firmly rooted in a battle for the league, it would be interesting to see who emerged victorious over ninety minutes – given that they had not yet met in the league.

It was the hosts that progressed to the fifth round though, courtesy of a sublime Nathan Aké goal from inside the box that nestled beautifully between the outstretched arms of the ‘keeper and the far post. Despite not getting on the scoresheet all too often, the Dutchman certainly proved that he can contribute crucial goals when it really matters.

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R5: Bristol City (0 – 3) Manchester City

A trip to Ashton Gate Stadium awaited Manchester City, who would look to cruise past Championship opposition in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Phil Foden propelled his side into an early lead after just seven minutes, but a resolute Bristol City managed to hold on until there was just fifteen minutes left to play. Then, Phil Foden completed his brace before Kevin De Bruyne bagged the third goal to seal progression to the quarterfinals.

QF: Manchester City (6 – 0) Burnley

This wasn’t just a quarterfinal tie – it was a game steeped in emotion for City fans, as they welcomed the legendary Vincent Kompany back to the Etihad Stadium. With the Belgian in the other dugout though, fans would have to forget the storyline for ninety minutes.

City were utterly dominant, with Erling Haaland completing a hat-trick just before the hour mark. Julián Álvarez was able to score twice too, with Cole Palmer managing to find the net as well – and it’d be fair to say that Burnley’s audition as a Premier League side didn’t go to plan.

SF: Manchester City (3 – 0) Sheffield United

Victory over Burnley saw City earn a trip to Wembley for the semifinals. It was Riyad Mahrez that stole the show in London, putting Pep Guardiola’s side ahead from the penalty spot just before the break – and the Algerian bagged another two goals in five minutes shortly after the hour mark to ensure the Blues would return to Wembley for the final showdown.

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The Stars

It’s hard to look past Erling Haaland as the star of this Manchester City team. His debut season in England has been record-breaking in every aspect, and he’ll relish the opportunity to send City on the way to the treble on Saturday.

The Numbers

It’s all well and good focusing on Erling Haaland’s goalscoring exploits, but City are defensively solid too. In fact, they haven’t conceded a goal in the FA Cup this season – and they’ve only conceded 33 in the Premier League.

Manchester United

The Journey

R3: Manchester United (3 – 1) Everton

United’s FA Cup campaign kicked off in the third round too, and the Red Devils got off to a flying start as Antony fired them ahead after just four minutes at Old Trafford. The scores would be levelled ten minutes later though, as Conor Coady poked home after chaos inside the penalty area.

Unfortunately for Everton, Coady’s heroics would soon be forgotten about as he scored an own goal at the start of the second half – restoring United’s lead. It looked as if Dominic Calvert-Lewin would equalise for the Toffees though, but a VAR replay showed that that Seamus Coleman was offside in the buildup. A late penalty deep in stoppage time wrapped up a less-than-comfortable victory for Erik Ten Hag’s side, as Marcus Rashford found the back of the net from the spot after Alejandro Garnacho was hauled to the ground.

R4: Manchester United (3 – 1) Reading

It took a little while longer for the goalscoring to get underway against Reading – and Marcus Rashford’s goal was chalked off for offside after he thought he’d put United ahead in the 35th minute. A quick-fire brace for Casemiro at the start of the second half saw the Red Devils establish a comfortable lead, and Fred added the third with 24 minutes still to play. Amadou Mbengue was able to clinch a consolation for the Royals, but the damage had already been done.

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R5: Manchester United (3 – 1) West Ham

United fans would have been fearing the worst in the fifth round, as Said Behrahma fired West Ham into the lead with 54 minutes played. As the game ticked into the last twenty minutes, Casemiro thought he’d equalised – but he was marginally offside as he latched onto Bruno Fernandes’ free-kick.

An own goal from Nayef Aguerd in the 77th minute gave United hope though, and they were level as the game headed into the final ten minutes. Alejandro Garnacho proved his status as a big-game player though, putting United into the lead in the 90th minute – before Fred added the third in stoppage time.

QF: Manchester United (3 – 1) Fulham

In a similar fashion to the previous game against West Ham, it was the visitors that took the lead as Aleksander Mitrovic put Fulham ahead shortly after half-time. Chaos would soon unfold though, as Marco Silva was unhappy with a VAR appeal for a potential penalty – and the manager was dismissed for overstepping the line in his protests. When the spot-kick was awarded, further mayhem erupted on the pitch, reducing Fulham to nine men as Willian and Mitrovic were both shown straight red cards.

Bruno Fernandes was able to convert from the spot, and Marcel Sabitzer added a second goal to put United ahead just two minutes later. Looking to capitalise on their newfound numerical advantage, Fernandes completed his brace deep in stoppage time to continue United’s streak of winning matches by a 3-1 scoreline.

SF: Brighton (0 – 0P) Manchester United

Consistency gets boring after a while, and it was at Wembley that United’s habit of winning games by a 3-1 scoreline was brought to an end. Neither side could find a breakthrough in ninety minutes, and the game still remained goalless after extra time – meaning a penalty shootout would be required to decide the winner.

The first twelve efforts all found the back of the net, though Solly March’s effort was blazed well over the crossbar to put United’s fate in their own hands. Victor Lindelof was able to guide his shot past Robert Sanchez – ensuring United would return to Wembley for the final.

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The Stars

Casemiro has been one of the most influential players for Manchester United this season, and he’ll look to play a crucial role in Saturday’s final. United can also rely on Bruno Fernandes, who is expected to line up in attacking midfield once again and ease the transition between Casemiro and the front line.

The Numbers

This will be Manchester United’s 21st FA Cup Final – they’ve won the tournament a staggering twelve times. These two sides have faced off at Wembley just twice before, and when silverware was at stake, it was United that emerged victorious with the 2011 Community Shield.