AS unlikely as it sounds, Manchester United are on the brink of winning their second trophy of the season.
They tangle with Manchester City in the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium, having already lifted the Carabao League Cup.
Yet even their staunchest of fans will tell you that this fixture is expected to be a lot more difficult than the League Cup final was – no disrespect intended to Newcastle.
City just won the Premier League title for the third year in a row, and next weekend they face Inter Milan in the Champions League final in Istanbul.
On face value, one would expect Man United to come rushing out of the blocks, if only to unsettle City, yet Erik ten Hag will know that if they don’t get it right early on, they might live to regret an approach like that.
Thus, the Dutchman, who won Man United’s first trophy in eight years when they clinched the Carabao League Cup in February, is more likely to sit deep and hit City on the counterattack.
In this regard, ten Hag should call on Marcus Rashford to pierce his way down the left flank and use speed and enormous talent to good effect, just like he has all season.
He’s been among Man United’s more consistent stars this season.
Ten Hag will have to make do without Anthony Martial. The 27-year-old Frenchman has been ruled out of the final with a hamstring injury.
Ten Hag will also know that they must conjure up a way to smother City’s midfield.
Here he will probably look to Casemiro, one of their outstanding players this campaign, and Bruno Fernandes to play with greater authority than they usually do — enough to repeal the dynamism of Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri, and release their own wingers down the flanks.
In Man United’s backline, their most problematic area of all, the fans will be heartened to hear that Raphael Varane will be in the game at Wembley.
The sturdy central defender is understood to have recovered from injury well enough to partner Diogo Dalot, who just signed a long-term contract to stay at Old Trafford until 2028 and is relishing the encounter.
The 24-year-old Portuguese star has become a key component in ten Hag’s side since the long-term injury to Lisandro Martinez.
Dalot, along with ten Hag and the squad, will hope goalkeeper David de Gea turns in one of his finer performances.
The Spaniard has been dreadful recently, and if he has another off day, City will make him pay – big time. Yet it is he who could wind up helping them to a second piece of silverware this season.