Manchester United squeak past Coventry on penalties to reach FA Cup final – The Briefing

Football…fucking hell, as someone once said.

Manchester United managed to turn a walk in the park into a fight for survival at Wembley as they fell behind 3-0, saw a Coventry City winner denied in the dying moments of extra time and just edged past the The Championship team 4-2 on penalties to reach next month’s FA Cup final against Manchester City.

Goals from Scott McTominay, Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes put Erik ten Hag’s side three up in sunny north-west London, but Coventry had other ideas.

Ellis Simms scored first in the 71st minute, sweeping the ball with his right foot into yards of space inside the area, and Callum O’Hare added a second seven minutes later, his shot deflecting Aaron Wan-Bissaka towards the wrong foot. goalkeeper André Onana.

United fans held their breath when Victor Torp unleashed a powerful shot from the edge of the area, and again when Coventry peppered Onana’s goal as time expired.

And then came that all-too-familiar feeling when referee Robert Jones pointed to the spot in injury time after ruling that Luis Binks’ shot had hit Wan-Bissaka’s arm. The video assistant referee chose not to overturn the decision and Haji Wright intervened to make it 3-3.

Wright brings Coventry level from the penalty spot (Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

There was even more drama in overtime. Wright fired a shot just beyond the far post, Simms hit the crossbar and Coventry saw a late winner chalked up for a narrow offside after Torp thought he had made the most remarkable comeback.

Casemiro saw his opening penalty for United saved, but Onana stopped O’Hare’s effort before captain Ben Sheaf put his attempt over the bar. Rasmus Hojlund converted United’s final kick to book his side’s place in an all-Manchester final on May 25.

Onana received a second yellow card in the shootout but was not sent off as his first yellow card was not carried over after extra time. The same thing happened to his Aston Villa counterpart Emiliano Martinez last week during his side’s Europa Conference League quarter-final victory over French club Lille. Onana will not be suspended for the final as cautions accrued during the FA Cup end in the round of 16, according to the Football Association.

An exhausted Carl Anka analyzes the main talking points from Wembley…

Why United always does he seem to do that?

At game time, The athletec had written a long paragraph explaining that this semi-final was United’s most measured and controlled performance in months. There were lines describing how Ten Hag’s team committed fewer players in front of the ball when in possession and were better at compressing the spaces between the lines when working without it. This was a team that was 3-0 up and looked like they were going through to the FA Cup final. Despite injuries, off-field disruptions and other problems, Ten Hag had almost managed to secure their third national final in two seasons.

Then it happened. New collapse.

But this one lacked the speed and chaos of last fall’s Champions League defeats to Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen, and instead showed the constant inevitability – drip, drip, drip – of damage. water on a house.

O’Hare’s goal to make it 3-2 struck fear into United’s ranks. Coventry kicked off, attacking space behind a disappointing Marcus Rashford and exploiting Wan-Bissaka’s naivety on balls from wide areas. Without several vital interceptions from Diogo Dalot from low crosses (a known United weakness), the Championship side could have scored a fourth or fifth goal in normal time. In the end, they had to settle for a Wright penalty in the 95th minute to send the match into overtime.

It would take the 97th minute introduction of Amad Diallo for Rashford – who was out injured – for United to stop the bleeding down their left flank and restore some semblance of control, but by then the damage was already do. The young Ivorian’s ability to play in tight areas and his precise passing gave United what Rashford could not.


(Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

Tired bodies and exhausted minds mean any United lead – even a three-goal one – is fragile. Fernandes and Dalot’s difficult runs and passes can only go so far when it comes to galvanizing a team lacking confidence and chemistry.

What does this mean for Ten Hag and its future?

“Three nil and you’ve screwed it up,” was one of the chants from the Coventry fans after their team equalized.

“You will be fired tomorrow morning,” said another, targeting Ten Hag.

The United manager said on Friday he had no concerns about what outsiders were saying about his performances or his job security, saying the real problem was the injury crisis which had kept him out to select his strongest eleven for more than “18 months”.

Additional injuries to Mason Mount, Sofyan Amrabat and Willy Kambwala on Friday may have strengthened his argument. How many teams could win a semi-final at Wembley with a defensive midfielder replacing the centre-back and a right-back having to play on the left flank?

Ten witches

(Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

But injuries can only go so far as to explain the repeated, inexplicable and maddening collapses this United team has been responsible for in 2023-24. It was yet another game in which Ten Hag’s men blew a multi-goal lead.

There’s a gap between what Ten Hag wants and what these players are capable of, and neither side seems capable of bridging the distance.

It must certainly have been interesting for United co-owners Joel and Avram Glazer, both in attendance at Wembley, as well as new investor Sir Jim Ratcliffe, fresh from completing the London Marathon earlier in the day.

One might wonder which of the INEOS founder’s Sunday activities was the most tiring and painful.

Has Casemiro worked in central defense?

He didn’t work from the penalty spot, that’s for sure – his weak effort was comfortably saved to put United ahead early in the shootout.

Ten Hag had to move Casemiro from midfield to central defense to compensate for Kambwala’s absence due to injury. United’s 2023-24 season has been a story of square pegs stuck in round holes, but Casemiro has put in a reasonable job at Wembley, under the guidance of his central partner Maguire and Dalot.

The 32-year-old took some time to adapt to the occasion. In the 11th minute, Wright broke away from him to create a counter-attacking opportunity for Coventry. Had it not been for Dalot rushing to make a tackle, the American striker would have scored on goal.

Casemiro is not the all-conquering defensive anchor of previous seasons with United and Real Madrid, but he has found a way to showcase his other talents. He is a formidable aerial presence in both penalty boxes, and his long passes – which had been inconsistent for large parts of the season – were smoother today.

The extra time and space he had on the ball in central defense allowed him to hit his favorite passes with greater precision, such as when he teed up Rashford in the 18th minute with a long ball over the top.

(Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

The Brazilian came on at half-time having made four tackles and a further clearance. But Coventry managed just 40 passes into the final third in those opening 45 minutes, compared to United’s 120. And it was a very different story in the second half and overtime.

As Simms’ goal showed, Casemiro’s move to central defense can only be a temporary measure. The former Everton striker found himself in far too much space and after that Casemiro and Maguire defended with increasingly disconcerting and uncomfortable energy. Wright also had the advantage over Casemiro, who couldn’t match the USMNT international in terms of pace and looked tired as the match wore on.

May’s Premier League matches against Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Brighton – and of course, the FA Cup final against neighbors City – could need his expertise in central midfield. But with so many centre-backs injured, Casemiro did enough to help his team cross the finish line on this occasion.

To paraphrase one of his own quotes, the Wembley semi-finals aren’t about playing, “they’re about winning, however you can.”

Manchester United

Simms celebrates Coventry’s first goal as Casemiro looks on (Ian Kington/AFP via Getty Images)

What did Ten Hag say?

“It’s a huge achievement to have been to an FA Cup final twice in two years,” the United boss said. “Over the last 20 years, United have participated five times. Now twice in two years, a huge achievement.

“But when you control a match that much, when you dominate, you should take it to the end. The way we did it was not good. I have to say that in the penalties, the way we acted there, the determination, it was a good sign of good morals. From the 70th minute until the end we made mistakes and it shouldn’t have happened.

“We can play at very high levels in the same match, but we can also reach very low levels in the same match. It’s not explainable, but it has to do with managing the game, taking responsibility, being responsible for each other.

“I have to teach my players clearly. We need to do better on such occasions but the hardest thing to do is put ourselves in a winning position, the latter thing is much easier. Many times we let ourselves go and let the outcome slide, but we got through it.

What future for United?

Wednesday April 24: Sheffield United (H), Premier League; 8:00 p.m. UK, 3:00 p.m. ET

United return to Premier League action this midweek, welcoming the bottom-of-the-table side to Old Trafford. So, without a doubt, it will be quite simple….

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(Top photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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