Friday 20 April 2018

United and Spurs to take centre stage in FA Cup semi

In a semi final played against a backdrop of events elsewhere in north London, the Reds 51st tie at the national stadium has all the hallmarks of our biggest and most important of the season so far.
With City confirmed as Premier League champions, English football's oldest, most famous and most prestigious competition represents United's last remaining chance of a trophy - a record-equalling 13th success in this tournament would represent a third cup win in two seasons, coupled with a second placed league finish this time around for Jose's improving but inconsistent Reds. It would also throw down a marker ahead of next season.
With a top four place wrapped up and that runners up spot all but made safe, the FA Cup is now United's priority. Jose has only ever won this trophy once in his career - at the expense of us during his first spell at Chelsea in 2007 - and has made no secret of his desire to get his hands on it again.This will be the Reds first FA Cup semi final under Jose, but his third visit to Wembley as our boss, following last season's Community Shield and EFL Cup victories.

Lying in wait at their temporary home - even though this is a neutral fixture -  are Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham team in their second successive last four tie, having lost 4-2 to eventual league champions and FA Cup runners up Chelsea in the corresponding stage last year. Spurs have risen from the shadows of their more illustrious neighbours Arsenal to become the dominant force in north London, but are yet to win a trophy under the tutelage of the likeable Argentine and have struggled to shake off the tag as the league's biggest 'bottlers'. Their own upward trajectory has been marked, but there's no silverware to show for it with Spurs bidding for a first major trophy since the 2008 League Cup.

For all the progress that has been this season in our highest league finish since 2013 - and, despite what the ABU agenda mongers will tell you, its tangible improvement -  any campaign without a trophy has to be considered one of huge dissapointment. For Spurs, winning the FA Cup would be massive, but for us, many would view it as merely a minor consolation prize. I don't buy that - whilst it may be second to the league title, such is the ultra competitive world of the modern English game that any trophy is one worth winning.

 The prize on offer is the same for both United and Tottenham, but ambitions, expectations and aspirations between the two are very different. Despite the fact we haven't challenged for either in years, many still expect us to bring back the Premier League and Champions League every season.

In terms of the tactics, expect this to pan out completely at odds with what happened the last time we played Spurs at Wembley - a masterpiece in how NOT to do so when Christian Eriksen scored the second fastest Premier League goal ever. Mourinho won't want an open encounter, so he will keep things tight and try to play on the counter attack. Pogba was deployed in a deep defensive position and United were brutally exposed when he wandered out wide. It's likely that - if he plays - he'll be given a freer role with Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera sitting behind him. It will be fascinating to see if Mourinho's big - game nous will have the decisive hand.

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