Anthony Martial had certainly read the script before stepping onto the pitch and scoring the winning goal in stoppage time as Manchester United reached their 19th FA Cup final and their first since the 2006-07 campaign, a final they would go on to lose against Didier Drogba’s Chelsea. For all their success in recent years, post the Glazer’s takeover, if there was one trophy that constantly eluded them, it’s the FA Cup and this year they have probably got the best chance to win it and end the hoodoo against one of Crystal Palace and Watford – who would be facing each other in the other semi-final on Sunday at Wembley.
Van Gaal’s Manchester United came into the game as favourites and rightly so against an Everton side, completely disjointed and dispirited, and their situation was only worse after the 4-0 derby annihilation at Anfield. A cup semi-final being a one-off game provided them the chance to turn their season around and they almost did when they equalised via Smalling’s own goal – and the host of other chances they created, especially in the second half, should have seen them through to the final, but it was not to be.
The Red Devils started the game brightly with Carrick looking fresh in particular after a two-week rest and Rooney dictating play from the deep. Rooney had arguably his best game from central midfield, a role he is expected to play in the future. He had 68 touches during the game, predominantly in the middle third, and created several openings for United down the flanks to build their play on and expose Everton’s weaknesses in the full back area.
It took 34 minutes for United to break the deadlock and it was the former Everton player that scored the goal – the first goal that Roberto Martinez’s side had conceded in the tournament so far. A well-worked move started with Rashford dragging Jagielka wide, and ended up with Martial whizzing past Besic with ease – something that would become a pattern for the rest of the game, only to find Fellaini unmarked to tap it in from six yards.
Everton started well in the second half and were more aggressive in their pressing which eventually led to a move that drew a fine tackle from Timothy Fosu-Mensah, a legitimate tackle on Ross Barkley where he clearly won the ball. Unfortunately, a penalty was given but De Gea, like he has done so many times in the last three seasons, rose to the occasion, stood his ground and thwarted a fine attempt from Lukaku, denying them a comeback at the time. But the Blues looked dangerous, particularly after the introduction of ex-Barcelona man Deulofeu, dug deep to find the equalising goal after Smalling’s attempted clearance found his own net.
The game opened up and plenty of chances went begging for either side, more so for Everton who had their best period in the game. But it was Louis Van Gaal’s side that pulled another rabbit out of the hat, when the odds were against them. This time, Anthony Martial, who had been brilliant throughout, popped up with a winner – thanks to a tenacious Herrera, who could not have laid the ball off any better than he did, in a tight situation. Martial’s goal was testament to how he has carried himself throughout the season, right from when he arrived as the most expensive teenager in the history of football transfers, to how integral he has proved to be during the course of what has been a difficult season for United and Louis Van Gaal.
Of all the goals he has scored for Manchester United this season, the winner he scored at Wembley to send his side to a record equaling FA Cup final might have just been the most important contribution he has made, for him on a personal level, the manager who is desperate to win a trophy in his somewhat troubled career in England and the club itself – bereft of any silverware of note since Sir Alex retired in the summer of 2013.
What a waste of money the Frenchman has been indeed.