Ever since both sides booked their respective places for a return to Wembley to play the final, this has been the game the fans were anxiously waiting for. The FA Cup final is one of the biggest days in England’s footballing calendar and a repeat of the 1990 final between Crystal Palace and Manchester United promises to be just as exciting in 2016, as it was 26 years ago.
This is quite easily Crystal Palace’s biggest game in their recent history, or maybe in their whole history, considering the fact that, a win could see them win their first top tier trophy since the club’s inception. Alan Pardew, a former Crystal Palace player himself, would be desperate to write his name into Holmesdale folklore forever with a win (revenge, perhaps?) against eleven-time winners Manchester United. He could only be the third English manager to win the FA Cup in the Premier League, which is an added incentive and just goes to show how big a game this is, not just for Palace as a football club and their supporters but also for their manager. Touching on this he said,
“It will not just be good for me and the club to win it but good for English coaches. English coaches and managers get a bad press. As an English manager I’m coming closer than anyone for a long time. It gives me an opportunity to try and win it.”
For Manchester United, the stakes are entirely different. A win on Saturday could see them move level with Arsenal’s record tally of twelve championships and mark their first time with their hands on the famous cup since 2004. Twelve years is a long time in football and especially in a season where most of the things have gone wrong for United. Silverware in May should prove to be the perfect antidote to the anodyne football they have been playing all campaign. Whether or not that will resolve the Louis Van Gaal situation remains to be seen, but the manager has come out with some surprising comments in his pre-match press conference stating how winning the FA Cup is more important than playing in the Champions League, to the dismay of some of the fans. He said,
“Of course you have set your own aims and that is one of the aims I have had, always. But it is not good to speak about my interests, it is good to speak about the interests of the club. For the club, this is very important. I have read that the last FA Cup [win for United] was 2004, so it is a long time ago. It is always exciting when you are so close, but close is not enough, you have to win it. When you win silverware it is always important, because a qualification is not a title. A title is an FA Cup, a championship. For players it is very important, because they can hold the Cup, and that is an exciting moment.”
Crystal Palace have been boosted by the return of Yohan Cabaye and Connor Wickham, the match-winner in the semi-final. Wilfried Zaha had also been a slight doubt with a minor muscle tear but is also expected to be available. Bakary Sako trained on Thursday meaning only Joe Ledley is certain to miss out for Pardew.
Marcos Rojo, Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmian and Timothy Fosu-Mensah all need prior fitness assessment whilst it remains to be seen how Van Gaal will line up his midfield options with Fellaini now available for selection. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luke Shaw are both ruled out.
If Marcus Rashford was to find the net this weekend’s final he would become the second-youngest United player to do so at 18 years and 203 days.
Alan Pardew could be the third English manager to win the FA Cup in the Premier League era after going close himself 10 years ago.
Wilfried Zaha – Crystal Palace
Zaha could make his fourth appearance against Manchester United since re-signing for Crystal Palace and one he would be desperate to make a mark in. He’s had a fine individual season, especially in the cup, for Palace winning their Player of the Season award and is arguably the biggest threat for the South London outfit, that could potentially hurt Manchester United on Saturday, with his direct style and the ability to create something out of nothing.
David De Gea – Manchester United
What can be said about De Gea that has not already been said. Fans’ player of the year at Manchester United for the third time running, the Spaniard has had another stellar campaign keeping 15 clean sheets, having been a vital cog in the back five that have conceded the least goals in the 2015/16 season. He’s a big game player and this is certainly their biggest game in the last two years meaning much of the game’s outcome on Saturday should rely on the shot-stopping abilities of the 25-year old.
Pardew to get lucky in the second time as manager. Palace to win. On penalties.
Crystal Palace 1-1 Manchester United (Palace win on penalties)