Cracker of FA Cup final in store

Gundogan may yet lift the trophy in what could be his last home game for City. — Reuters

FOR the first time in 142 FA Cup finals, Manchester City and Manchester United will come face-to-face, and if things pan out as many suspect they might, then this should be a cracker.

City will start as favourites, but it is most likely that they will not win as easily as some believe they will.

There is little doubt that City have a deeper squad, laden with a lot more talent, and have just been crowned league champions for the third straight season.

That momentum is what tilts the odds in favour of Pep Guardiola’s side, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Cup finals – particularly this fabled one – often throw up upsets, as history has taught us, and we could well have another one on our hands at London’s Wembley Stadium today.

Man United, though, will have more than enough reason to thwart City’s advances for a treble. The Red Devils are the only club to have achieved the feat, 24 years ago under Alex Ferguson.

And Guardiola and his squad know what it would mean to their legacy if they were to pull off a treble of their own.

They have the league title wrapped up and sitting in the trophy cabinet at the Etihad, and they are now just two games away from matching that great Man United side of 1999.

The Citizens are also set to play Inter Milan in the Champions League final next weekend.

What excites the neutrals is that City are by far the most entertaining football team to watch in the world, and as great a spectacle as the FA Cup final is, this could be one for the ages.

Guardiola will lead his side out after suffering two unconvincing results in their last two games.

Following their victory over Chelsea, which really started the celebrations of their league title triumph, they were held by Brighton and then lost their last league match of the season to Brentford.

To be sure, the side fielded in that clash featured some five lads from the second string, clearly illustrating that Guardiola was resting his star players in preparation of today’s final and the one at Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkiye, next Saturday.

It would not surprise many to see John Stones, Ruben Dias, Rodri, Ilkay Gündogan, Kevin de Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Erlin Haaland make a return to the starting line-up.

And if they play as well as we know they can, Man United will almost surely find themselves in a spot of bother.

Haaland has been City’s and the Premier League’s standout player this season.

He has set a load of records en route to 52 goals for his club in his debut campaign – 36 in the league alone.

That’s a remarkable return by any standard. Indeed, he was recognised as the 2023 Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Year.

Today, if given a half-chance, he will add to that. The Man United faithful will not have forgotten that he hit them for a hat-trick in the 6-3 drubbing at the Etihad in October.

But Haaland is just one of several players who can leave an indelible mark on the final.

De Bruyne is another, and so too is Grealish, Ryhad Mahrez or Bernardo Silva for that matter.

For Gundogan, their captain, this is likely to be his last fixture in England with the team.

He is expected to leave in the off-season, with his contract coming to an end.

He has won five league titles with City, four League Cups and an FA Cup.

The German midfield workhorse would love to sign off at Wembley by lifting the famous old trophy in front of millions of fans around the world, and then do so again next weekend with the Champions League trophy — Big Ears.

Man United, for their part, will be bent on ensuring that no such thing happens – more so in the first-ever FA Cup final between the cross-town rivals.

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