Manchester City 1 Manchester United 2: A breathtaking team goal and Ten Hag gets it right to win FA Cup

Manchester United tore the storyline to shreds as first-half goals from Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo saw them defeat rivals Manchester City to win the FA Cup.

In what could prove to be Erik ten Hag’s final game as United manager, with the club scouting for potential replacements in case they decide to part ways with the Dutchman after two years, his side have without doubt produced his best performance of the season to end a difficult period. 2023-24 on a trophy record.

Pep Guardiola’s four-straight Premier League champions piled on the pressure in the second half and halved the deficit late on through substitute Jeremy Doku, but United held on to win the FA Cup for the 13th time.

Carl Anka, Mark Critchley, Dan Sheldon and Sam Lee recap a dramatic afternoon at Wembley.

How Erik ten Hag succeeded in his tactical approach

While dark clouds hung over job security, Erik ten Hag was bold in his tactical choice.

The 4-2-2-2 shape that saw Manchester United secure victories against Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion in the final two league matches of the season was used again at Wembley. Lisandro Martinez partnered Raphael Varane in central defense for the first time since the 4-3 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on February 1.

Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho were preferred on the wings while Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes operated up front as separate strikers. The United manager’s game plan appeared to be to contain and then counter-attack Manchester City. TwoTen minutes into the match, things seemed to be working; United’s out-of-possession shape was more compact and resilient. The “great divide” that opposition analysts speak of was a thing of the past.

When United lost the ball, they counter-pressed for five seconds to try to win it back before retreating into their shell. Ten Hag’s men were comfortable channeling City’s attacks, confident their centre-backs could clear any crosses towards Erling Haaland. When United regained possession, they moved quickly to break.

Ten Hag won his second trophy as United manager in what could be his final game in the role (Neal Simpson/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images)

If there was a problem, it became evident when Kyle Walker beat Rashford in a race again. United’s attempts to get behind City’s back four met with limited success. Every time they found a chink in Pep Guardiola’s side’s armor, the Premier League champions made an adjustment.

Then it happened.

A wonderful long pass from Diogo Dalot and Garnacho chased down United’s right. The 19-year-old lost the sprint to Josko Gvardiol, but the City defender made a meal of his header at goalkeeper Stefan Ortega. Garnacho took his chance to slot the ball home to give United the lead on the half hour mark.

“They are very good at counter-pressing, but we can still find spaces and dominate the game,” Dalot said before the final.

United kept their word with their second goal nine minutes later. A brief period of settled possession saw the ball head again to Garnacho on the right, who teamed up with Fernandes and sent a smart ball to Kobbie Mainoo at the far post to make it 2-0.

Under difficult circumstances, Ten Hag seemed to have done things well. Guardiola’s introductions of Jeremy Doku and then Julian Alvarez attempted to stretch United’s compact shape, but they managed to survive despite the former’s late consolation goal.

Carl Anka

Mainoo’s goal: the anatomy of a classic cup final

If history remembers this as Ten Hag’s final match in charge, at least United scored one of the finest goals of his two seasons: a goal that was a symbol of what he attempted to accomplish.

It was 1A proof of how the United manager wants his players to attack: with intensity at first, then with composure to finish in the box. This may seem contradictory. He often look at contradictory, and sometimes totally untenable, this season. But when it works, it’s exciting.

The move started as it ended, with Kobbie Mainoo completing a simple pass to Marcus Rashford in space on the left flank, halfway into his own half.

Playing a cross-field pass from this position was ambitious, and the ball may not have had enough speed to truly expose City’s extremely high line, but Rashford’s thinking was still quick enough to catch them on the back foot Nevertheless.

Yet it was the speed and ingenuity of thinking approaching and inside the penalty area that stood out – something United have sorely lacked this season. Alejandro Garnacho initially slowed the movement, allowing Bruno Fernandes to take a look at Mainoo’s advanced position, then sped it up.

Fernandes’ impeccable dismissal echoed Teddy Sheringham at Wembley – not only for England against the Netherlands at Euro 96, but most pertinently in a United shirt in the 1999 FA Cup final for allowing Paul Scholes to score the decisive second against Newcastle. United. There was only one difference. Sheringham was looking in the right direction.

And that it was Mainoo who applied the first touch, with all the composure we’ve come to expect from the teenage United academy graduate in his breakthrough season, was fitting – and not just because he started the movement in the first place.

Whatever United’s future holds, Mainoo will be part of it – and so should lead devastating football like this.

Marc Critchley

How United exploited City’s high line

From the first exchanges, it was clear that Manchester United would not try to dominate the match.

Erik ten Hag was content to allow Manchester City to have the ball, but wanted his players to be ready to exploit the opposition’s high line at any opportunity. The Dutchman wanted to use the pace of Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho to get behind the City defense.

And it worked, time and time again.

Although Garnacho’s first goal was the result of an almighty confusion at the back between Josko Gvardiol and Stefan Ortega, it’scould not have come to fruition if the Argentinian had not run behind and forced the error.

Alejandro Garnacho, Manchester United

Alejandro Garnacho shoots into an empty net to open the scoring (Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

United continued to hold off City and got their rewards again with another quick transition. This time Rashford faded past Garnacho, who had acres of space. He then faced Bruno Fernandes, who passed the ball to Kobbie Mainoo to double their lead.

It was an outstanding team goal and one that would have made Ten Hag lick his lips. It was his game plan unraveling in the most devastating way possible.

Although Rashford struggled to consistently get the better of Kyle Walker, arguably the fastest right-back in football, Garnacho continued to beat Gvardiol.

Even during the second half, which saw City dominate possession, United still looked a threat on the counter-attack and that was something Pep Guardiola was more than aware of.

Dan Sheldon

What went wrong for City?

“In football you are going to lose games,” Pep Guardiola said last weekend, after seeing his side win the Premier League title once again. “You have to choose how you lose matches. This is what defines the best teams.

Manchester City certainly lost in the second half and clawed back a goal to set up a tense finale, which saved plenty of face after an unusual first 45 minutes.

If Julian Alvarez had created a huge chance in the middle of an attack with around 30 minutes to go, the tide might have turned in City’s favor much sooner, but, in the end, it wasn’t enough to save a desperately disappointing first half from the champions. .

City failed to add the FA Cup to their Premier League title (Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

City would have been happy for their patient probe up front before the break, and that’s good when you keep the back door closed, but the confusion around the first goal seemed to rattle them – they seemed to rush things, leaving spaces who United took advantage of with their brilliant second.

Guardiola did not joke with his changes, making two at half-time, including the introduction of Jeremy Doku, who brought danger well before his late goal, then the ineffective Kevin De Bruyne was withdrawn barely 11 minutes later.

The next 45 seconds looked much more like the kind of performance we’ve come to expect from City, but that first half shook them and ultimately they couldn’t recover.

Sam Lee

What did Pep Guardiola say?

‘It can happen,’ Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola told BBC Sport when discussing Stefan Ortega’s mistake that led to the opening goal in their 2-1 FA Cup final defeat to their neighbors United. “Anything can happen in the final. Lots of things, decisions, so many things happening and at the end (of the day) they scored two goals and we couldn’t score more.

“It’s a transition team; always, United, for 10, 20, 30 years; they have always been a transition team. In the first half we struggled a bit and (in) the second half we were better until we found our moment (to get a goal back).

“We scored a little late, with the chances we had with Erling (Haaland) and Jules (Julian Alvarez) and the actions of Jeremy (Doku), especially on the left side, in general it was a good performance , given that it was a final.

What did Erik ten Hag say?

“All our compliments to the team,” Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag told BBC Sport. “They played very well, with our identity, very strong. You see that (when) we have the players on board, how we can play, in our philosophy.

“I tell you all year: when the players are in good shape, we can play good football. (It was) a very good performance, against the best team in the world, I think.

Ten Hag also responded to criticism leveled at him and his team this season, saying: “We didn’t have the players we needed. We (he and the critics) saw the same things. It wasn’t always good football, certainly not, but we had to compromise all the time. Then you can’t play the football you want to play.

“I’ve been here for two years now and probably (only) three, four times we’ve had the full team on board. Also today some major players, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Casemiro, were not on board.

Ten Hag asks if it was his last match as United manager: “I don’t know but the only thing I do is prepare my team, develop my team, (try to) improve my team and my individual players because that, for me, is a project When I arrived, I can say that it was a mess. We are better now, but we are far from where we want to be.

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(Top photo: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

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