|Preview for Saturday's FA Cup final between Man United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium|
Manchester United vs Crystal Palace | Saturday 21 May | Wembley Stadium | 18:30 CAT
This weekend’s F.A Cup final features Van Gaal’s underperforming United side and one of the statistically worst performing side in the league this year. Palace have mentally checked out of the league for some time and will be looking to justify that decision with a barnstorming performance this weekend. Van Gaal knows that his chances of managing United next year - slim as they are - rest firmly on their ability to win this match. Wayne Rooney seems to have returned to his mesmeric best - which is a good sign for both United and England going into the Euros.
To Win (90 Mins)
Man United 15/20 | Draw 24/10 | Crystal Palace 4/1
To Lift TrophyMan United 7/20 | Crystal Palace 2/1
United have managed to find some consistency in performance in the last two months. Marcus Rashford has provided some bite up front while Wayne Rooney is starting to spray his passes with the authoritarian precision that one expects of him. Their disappointment at missing out on Champions League football next year will no doubt be assuaged somewhat by victory here.
Juan Mata was inexplicitly left out of the Spanish squad and will be looking to show Vicente Del Bosque his value in this match. Palace play predominately on the counterattack and will leave those little pockets of space available for Mata to exploit, particularly if Jedinak plays in midfield.
A huge area of concern for United is their holding midfield area. I expect Van Gaal to opt for Herrera ahead of Carrick while Fellaini seems to be a constant presence in the Cup side at least. United will be pleased to have Borthwick-Jackson back in the side while Smalling and Blind continue to impress in the centre of defence.
Valencia and Borthwick-Jackson will need to keep their wits about them with the counterattacking speed offered by the likes of Bolasie and Zaha. The presence of Rooney is hugely critical in the destiny of this match. His ability to control the tempo of matches is critical - especially in finals where cognitive functioning generally goes into overdrive to the detriment of performance.
Alan Pardew’s incredulously poor year in the league will be forgotten if they manage to make history this weekend. Pardew’s managerial career reads like your typically unpredictable piece of crime fiction - jammed full of twists and unexpected turns. Cabaye needs to come alive in this game and offer a counterpoint to Rooney’s controlling instincts. Jason Puncheon scored an absolute cracker in their resounding 4-1 defeat to Southampton and will no doubt be deployed on that right-hand side with the intent of cutting in; he will attempt to expose Borthwick-Jackson’s perceived lack of experience. Dann and Delaney may ironically prove to be Palace’s most persistent threat through their presence at set pieces.
Yannick Bolaise will be their engine and will look to keep United in a constant state of retreat. Wembley is a big field, which concerns me somewhat for the makeup of this Palace side. There is something of a gap in athleticism between their more progressive players and their backline. I 'm concerned that - giving their emphasis on counter-attacking - the side may be stretched, allowing the likes of Mata and Rooney to exploit the open space. United have some pace in their side now through the likes of Rashford and Martial - which could change the dynamic of this encounter.
Verdict: Halftime-Fulltime Double- Drawn 1st Half/United to win second half at 31/10
United have been notoriously slow starters this season and this occasion should see no exception. I expect the first half to be typically cagey and for United to dictate proceedings in the second half, with Rooney influential while Martial potentially capitalizes from his vision.