Win or lose cup fi­nal, Mour­inho key to United re­vival

The National - News - - SPORT - ANDY MITTEN

Manch­ester United’s FA Cup rivalry with Chelsea is a mostly mod­ern af­fair. The pair meet at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium in the cup fi­nal on Satur­day, the third time they have done so since 1994.

His­tor­i­cally, they have clashed 14 times in the com­pe­ti­tion, with United win­ning eight of those games and los­ing only four. Nine of those encounters have come since that 1994 fi­nal, which United tri­umphed 4-0 in.

Chelsea’s record has im­proved since they ben­e­fited from the wealth of Ro­man Abramovich in 2005. They won the 2007 fi­nal 1-0, the first to be played at a re­de­vel­oped Wem­b­ley, a dull match be­tween two great sides who would meet in the Uefa Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal a year later.

Chelsea also knocked United out of the cup in the sixth round at Stam­ford Bridge last sea­son. That re­sult was lit­tle sur­prise given United’s dread­ful re­cent away form at Chelsea, but Jose Mour­inho was fu­ri­ous be­cause his game plan was shred­ded when An­der Her­rera was sent off 10 min­utes be­fore half time af­ter a foul on Eden Hazard.

Mour­inho was abused by Chelsea fans who had once loved him. He is venge­ful this time – and not just be­cause he knows how a cup win will make a big difference to how United’s sea­son is judged.

Win and United will claim with jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that the sea­son has been rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful. The team have fin­ished sec­ond with 81 points. It will do for now, even if many fans are con­cerned about the style of foot­ball. It will also set up an Au­gust Com­mu­nity Shield match against cham­pi­ons Manch­ester City.

Lose and it will st­ing, a sad end to a sea­son kept alive by a de­cent cup run. There has been a flat­ness around re­cent United per­for­mances, an end of term feel which re­mains un­usual for fans since their team were in con­tention for league ti­tles in April and May.

The FA Cup re­mains im­por­tant to United. The com­pe­ti­tion is not as pres­ti­gious as the Cham­pi­ons League or the Premier League, but it has no lit­tle value in the eyes of United sup­port­ers, many of who re­mem­ber when it was the only tro­phy United were ca­pa­ble of win­ning.

Be­tween 1968 and 1990, United lifted the cup four times. Eng­land’s big­gest club won no other ma­jor tro­phies in that pe­riod.

What­ever the re­sult at a sell­out Wem­b­ley where fans will pay prices 30 per cent higher than only two years ago when United last played in the fi­nal, Mour­inho is ex­pected – and de­serves – to be in charge at the start of the next sea­son.

He trav­elled to Lon­don on Wed­nes­day with his team and should go into the game with a full squad. The re­cently in­jured lead­ing goalscorer Romelu Lukaku, An­thony Mar­tial and Marouane Fel­laini are all ex­pected to be fit.

Mour­inho is likely to play the same team – or a very sim­i­lar team to the one which beat Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur in the semi-fi­nal, where United came from be­hind with goals from Alexis Sanchez and Her­rera to win 2-1.

That would mean Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in cen­tral defence, even though the part­ner­ship be­tween Jones and Eric Bailly has been far more ef­fec­tive re­sults wise.

In their six games to­gether, they have kept five clean sheets, picked up 16 from 18 points in a side which has scored 17 goals against two con­ceded. The semi-fi­nal was the first time United has beaten Spurs in Lon­don in five at­tempts.

United, who have won 12 FA Cups and will match Arse­nal’s record 13 wins if they tri­umph, will be hop­ing for a sim­i­lar change in for­tune against a team which has also found it easy to beat them in Eng­land’s cap­i­tal in re­cent years.

Romelu Lukaku is fit again

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