Manchester United vs Tottenham FA Cup Semi-Final Preview

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With the possibility of Liverpool winning the Champions League, Manchester City already crowned winners of the League Cup and Premier League and Arsenal still in contention for the Europa League, there is pressure on Manchester United to win some silverware.

The FA Cup.

A long-standing football competition, the oldest in the world, which has produced magical moments. Many teams traditionally considered as the ‘underdogs’ have gone on to produce famous upsets. Wigan Athletic’s 1-0 victory over our rivals, Manchester City, in the 2012/13 season, produced one of the greatest shocks. Manchester United have won the FA Cup 12 times in our history. Our last came in the 2015/16 season with a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace. Only Arsenal have a greater record, having won their 13th title last year against Chelsea with a 2-1 victory.

Image: Daily Express

The Red Devils are on course for a top-four finish in the Premier League, with Jose Mourinho demanding that we focus on taking the second spot. A current tally of 71 points is our best return since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

However, this season has not lived up to expectations. To put it bluntly, the football produced has not matched the money spent. Later today, Manchester United will step in the FA Cup semi-final for the 29th time; against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium. As rightly stated by Juan Mata, “united can salvage this season with FA Cup glory”.

Perhaps a crucial flaw in our season has been the constant “off-field talk” that has taken centre stage: from transfer rumours, public criticism by the manager to agents adding to the drama of football. Reaching and winning the FA Cup will set United in a positive direction for next season.

In the FA Cup quarter-final we faced fellow Premier League team, Brighton & Hove Albion. Goals from Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic ensured a 2-0 victory. Though the score on paper suggested a comfortable win, Jose Mourinho was far from impressed with his side. He complained of his team being “scared to play” before adding that he “blamed everyone”. Romero started in goal, with a back-four comprising of Valencia, Bailly, Smalling and Shaw. A three-man midfield saw the partnership of McTominay, Matic and Mata. Leading the line were Lingard, Martial and Lukaku.

A shocking and underwhelming 1-0 defeat against West Brom in the Premier League raised several alarm bells. However, the Red Devils bounced back and responded confidently with a 2-0 win over Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium.

David De Gea’s performance, earning his 17th clean sheet in the Premier League and 21st overall this season has deservingly given him the No.1 spot in the PFA team of the year 2018. A special congratulation must be awarded, as he is the only Manchester United player in the starting XI.

Image: BBC Sport

Our goals came from Chris Smalling, who slid the ball into the back of the net from Lingard’s cross in the 28th minute. With 20 minutes left, a slick through ball pass from Paul Pogba allowed Romelu Lukaku to lift the ball over Asmir Begovic and claim United’s second goal of the match. Lukaku took his tally in the League to 16 goals and 27 overall, a personal best.

Image: The Guardian/Marc Atkins/Offside/Getty Images

Another critical talking point of our season has been Mourinho’s squad rotation, or lack of. Our starting XI for the clash against Bournemouth was: De Gea resuming his position in goal. In defence, rare starts were given to Matteo Darmian at right-back and the heavily critised Luke Shaw at left-back. At the heart of our defence were the English duo of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. In a three-man midfield, Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba started. Youth began the game upfront: Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. The manager definitely responded to players such as Shaw and Martial being left out of the team. His team selection displayed the strength in-depth of our squad, utilising the “back-up” players and bringing them to the forefront.

Spurs faced Swansea City in the quarter-final of the FA Cup. Christian Eriksen yet again found himself on the scoresheet with two goals. He was joined by Erik Lamela who ensured Tottenham comprehensively won 3-0. Michel Vorm started in goal, with a defence of Trippier, Sanchez, Vertonghen and Davies. In midfield, Eric Dier was partnered with Moussa Sissoko and Lucas Moura. Leading the line were Lamela, Eriksen and Son.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side recently suffered a 3-1 defeat to Man City. Strikes from Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling ensured Man City moved a step closer to clinching their third Premier League title. One of Spurs’ most in-form players, Christian Eriksen, scored in the 42nd minute though this was not enough to beat City.

*Subject to change: this article may need to be updated if Harry Kane’s appeal for all four goals is successful.

Image: The Sun

On Tuesday, Tottenham faced Brighton & Hove Albion and Harry Kane did legitimately manage to score his 26th Premier League goal of the season. Though this was soon cancelled out by a second-half penalty from Pascal Gross for Brighton & Hove Albion. The game finished 1-1 which Spurs would have considered as points dropped. This result was encouraging for us as Pochettino’s men now 6 points behind us.

Today’s game will be the third meeting between the two sides in this campaign. The first, at the end of October, saw United claim a late winner thanks to Anthony Martial. In the reverse fixture on the 31st January, we lost 2-0 against Tottenham as Christian Eriksen scored within the first minute of the game and narrowly missed out on the fastest Premier League goal scored in history. Phil Jones may not have the fondest memories of that game, considering he scored an own-goal in the 28th minute.


Image: The Telegraph

Mourinho’s men will have first-hand experience of just how dangerous this Spurs team are. It is crucial we do not repeat our mistake of conceding an early goal. Pochettino’s men will be looking to capitalise on the home advantage. A place in the final, with the chance of adding to the trophy cabinet, means that both managers will take their team selection seriously.

United’s poor performance against West Brom left Mourinho claiming that “players would be dropped for the FA Cup semi-final”. However, the more encouraging display against Bournemouth has now resulted in the manager believing that his players do want to fight for their right to earn a starting position for this match. De Gea will be expected to start in goal. Especially since our second-choice goalkeeper, Sergio Romero, injured himself while on international duty for Argentina. In defence, Valencia and Young at full-backs. In central defence, Smalling and Bailly would be our strongest pairing though Smalling and Jones have better chemistry together. A midfield three would seem sensible, given Tottenham’s attacking quality, so Matic, Herrera and Pogba. This is most definitely a game in which Pogba cannot afford to ‘disappear’. Up front, Sanchez, Lukaku and Martial would be the most ideal trio though there is still much uncertainty over the latter’s future.

Spurs on the other hand are likely to start Hugo Lloris in goal, despite Michel Vorm playing in the FA Cup. In defence, recent signing, Sanchez and Vertonghen will most probably be joined by Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies. Talks of Belgian central defender Toby Alderweireld being sold in the summer continue as suggested by his recent exclusion from the squad. The game could be won in midfield, which is why Pochettino may opt for starting Dier, Dembele and Lucas Moura. A front three of Eriksen, Kane and Alli will certainly test our back four.

If United can claim a victory and go on to win the FA Cup, alongside a second-place finish in the Premier League, then this season may be considered as slightly above average. Defeat will leave Mourinho with questions to ask of himself and his squad, given United’s huge spending project since his arrival.

A place in the final, and possibly a trophy for Mauricio Pochettino and this talented Spurs side will finally begin to answer the same question that his plagued their squad. “Lots of potential but do they inevitably lack the mentality to win trophies?” If they lose, this statement will continue to be made and others may consider following the footsteps of former full-back Kyle Walker, who left to join Man City and “win trophies”.

Hopefully the game brings an attacking quality. We believe United will play well enough to win so we’re going with 2-1.

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