Project FA Cup

There is a little something about Manchester United’s renewed relationship with the FA Cup this season. It has been a love affair not always on solid ground over the past decade, but after the Reds’ comfortable victory over Fulham at Old Trafford on Saturday evening, thoughts have turned once again to a Wembley final in May. Eight and a half long years since United last lifted the 140-year-old trophy, the hunt appears to be on once again.

True, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has appeared in two finals – losing both – since the Scot’s side secured the FA Cup in 2004. Two further defeats at the semi-final stage, to Manchester City in 2011 and Everton in 2009, has brought scant comfort in a decade of cup disappointment.

But United’s long affinity with the FA Cup – a tournament the club has secured on a record 11 occasions – has been weaker in the past decade. Troublesome draws, bad luck and eyes on greater prizes has played a part in United’s relative sack of success since 2004.

While Ferguson selected a strong side to face City at Wembley two years ago, other priorities took precedent to United’s semi with Everton in 2009. Although, admittedly, there was genuine ill fortune in final defeat to Arsenal in 2005 and Chelsea two years later.

Yet, the past decade is in marked contrast to the earlier part of Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford that brought much joy in the Cup. United claimed the trophy four times in the 1990s – part of two doubles and the 1999 treble.

However, there is a real change in mood at Old Trafford this season, with Ferguson and his players insisting that the Cup is once again a priority despite the heavy workload at home and in European competition.

That Ferguson, together with his senior lieutenants Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, are the only members of the current squad to have tasted Cup glory says much for the barren period. Perhaps, too, the squad’s desire to rectify a perceived imbalance.

“We’ve not done as well as we should have done in the last eight, nine years,” said Giggs in the aftermath on Saturday’s.

“There’s a lot of players desperate to win it. With the history we’ve got in the competition, we should be there, we should be getting to finals, so hopefully this will be the year.”

Safely through to the fifth round after an almost embarrassingly comfortable win on Saturday, United will now face struggling Reading at Old Trafford in three week’s time.

The Reading tie is yet another in a long line of fixtures United has faced against Premier League opposition in recent years. Eight of United’s past 10 FA Cup fixtures have been against top level opponents – including 20 of the past 25 – and each of the last seven ties: Reading, Fulham, West Ham, Liverpool, City, City and Arsenal.

Still, with the Royals in the bottom three and staring into the abyss of relegation from the Premier League the year before a new TV deal kicks in, Ferguson’s side should comfortably progress. After all, Brian McDermott’s side can ill afford to concentrate on anything bar league salvation.

History is with the Reds too – the sides have met 12 times before in the competition, with United having lost just one of those fixtures.

However, Ferguson’s resolve to field strong sides in the competition will be sorely tested in the coming weeks, with United hosting Reading just three days after a physically and emotionally draining Champions League tie against Real in Madrid.

Indeed, a packed schedule up to the European ties surely ensures changes will be made in the FA Cup. United host Southampton at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, before travelling south to meet Fulham in the Premier League next weekend. The international break will the disrupt the squad before Everton come to Manchester in early February.

The schedule may be packed but at least the rate at which Premier League teams have fallen in this season’s competition – 13 of 20 by the fourth round’s conclusion – should make United’s passage a little easier, although Chelsea, Arsenal and City remain in the competition.

And should United continue to progress in both cups supporters’ dreams of another treble, 14 years on from the original, will grow – unlikely as the achievement may have seemed last August.

“We want to win all three. We want to win the treble. It is in our minds,” admits striker Javier Hernández, who’s brace against Fulham proved decisive.

For now fans can enjoy the potential of another FA Cup run – it has, after all, been far too long since United’s captain has climbed Wembley’s steps. Regaining the Premier League, conquering Europe even, may come first, but the Cup still retains a special place more than a century after a first victory in the competition.

“The FA Cup is an important trophy for us this season,” concludes Ferguson. “We haven’t won it for almost 10 years, so we really need to have a big performance this year”

There are few fans that will disagree with that sentiment.

FA Cup fifth round draw:
Huddersfield or Leicester v Wigan Athletic
MK Dons v Barnsley
Oldham v Everton
Luton v Millwall
Arsenal v Blackburn
Manchester City v Leeds
UNITED v Reading
Middlesbrough v Chelsea or Brentford

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Comments

  1. says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    You just know that, if we get to the final… Giggs and Scholes will play.

    Next thing you will tell me to keep quiet won’t you Alfie?!

    I am in SA for the Cup of Nations. Wonder where that Justin lad is anyway?! I don’t care who plays as long as we get to the final. You however feel we will draw Man City somewhere and they will knock us out cos we are going to win the league from them.

  2. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Calvino said:
    Next thing you will tell me to keep quiet won’t you Alfie?!

    I am in SA for the Cup of Nations. Wonder where that Justin lad is anyway?! I don’t care who plays as long as we get to the final. You however feel we will draw Man City somewhere and they will knock us out cos we are going to win the league from them.

    The way City are playing right now, I’d fancy us to beat them 3 out of 4 times… especially without Kompany.

  3. Sidsidney says

    dozer said:
    Our best left winger will play? Great!

    Tbf Giggs is in the kind of form where he should play

    If he’s still aving it he could torment Southampton

    • Chris K says

      Got that right. Even Rafael was better on the wing than Valencia. I can’t really remember the last good completed cross from.

  4. han says

    Pikey McScum said:
    Are you still here? I thought you’d gone…

    no
    sorry to disappoint you
    you really need to pull your head out from bri’s arse cheeks and focus on something else

  5. captainhormonecaptainhormone says

    han said:
    no
    sorry to disappoint you
    you really need to pull your head out from bri’s arse cheeks and focus on something else

    Justice league is in full focus

  6. han says

    Commenter said:
    Fletcher has also won the FA Cup.

    a word
    u must call him the manager’s bastard son or else you will be put up against the cyber wall and sodomised by the big ugly rant league of justice or some other bollockless shite

  7. definitely not tommyTommy says

    11 of 17 potential opponents were from lower divisions and we STILL draw a fucking premiership team. what’s the point of the FA cup when we always play premier league sides ffs

  8. AnantaxAnantax says

    Tommy said:
    11 of 17 potential opponents were from lower divisions and we STILL draw a fucking premiership team. what’s the point of the FA cup when we always play premier league sides ffs

    Considering these lower division teams have kicked out Liverpool, Spurs, Norwich, Villa and QPR….perhaps its a blessing in disguise..

  9. definitely not tommyTommy says

    Anantax said:
    Considering these lower division teams have kicked out Liverpool, Spurs, Norwich, Villa and QPR….perhaps its a blessing in disguise..

    True, though all those teams are shite tbf. Spurs excepted.

  10. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Commenter said:
    Millwall away in the next round should be good….!

    Fuck Millwall… that outfit doesn’t deserve the extra revenue.

  11. Damian Garside says

    A piece by Callum Hamilton that I thought I would share with youall at RANT

    Following the gift of Manchester City’s failure to find a way past Queens Park Rangers last night, Manchester United will have an opportunity tonight to take another huge step towards the Premier League title. Before the game kicks off, they are clear favourites to lift the trophy at the end of the season, and with all likelihood, the same will be true after the final whistle. In the wider context of things, it is for once a surprise.

    Manchester United are a deeply flawed team. It doesn’t need to be said, but to get all Shakespearean, let us count the ways: the midfield is the most obvious, teetering between non-existence and incompetence, a much-hyped Michael Carrick invariably partnered with Tom Cleverley (too inconsistent), Phil Jones (too limited), Anderson (too unfit), Paul Scholes (too old), or Ryan Giggs (too much like a 40-year-old winger.) In goal, David de Gea’s shot-stopping has impressed, but he has undoubtedly been at fault for a number of goals conceded. In defence, Patrice Evra continues to be vulnerable, while Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have both been restricted by injuries. On the wings, Antonio Valencia is a shadow of his former self while Nani continues to blow hot and cold as United try to force his departure. Up front, Danny Welbeck has played well but his goalscoring has completely dried up, while Wayne Rooney has once again gone missing for a large swathe of the season.

    That’s just the individual, tangible problems. More broadly, United have had fewer convincing wins than ever before, have generally found it difficult to play two consecutive halves of good football, and have looked vulnerable at the back.

    Now that we’ve done the cons, let’s look at the strengths of the team. Rafael has had an excellent season. Jonny Evans continues to look the part. Javier Hernandez has been lethal. Robin van Persie has been a revelation. They’ve scored plenty of goals. And, er, that’s it.

    The most curious feature of this United team is that despite the flaws, they appear to be the ultimate team for all seasons, able to dig themselves out of any situation. It’s a team that has for a long time now been running on the fumes of a ‘winning mentality’, and the sheer art of somehow finding a way, any way throughout the year. A lot of people thought the previous season would be their last, but as they’ve continued for one last hurrah, a winning mentality is virtually all they have left. Fortunately, just as they’ve been left with it as their sole weapon, they appear to have perfected it.

    So far, United are on course for this to be one of their best years in big games of the entire Ferguson era. A rare double over Liverpool has been matched with victories at Manchester City and Chelsea. None of them were easy, and a couple of them perhaps even undeserved, but nonetheless, there they are.

    The strange fact at the heart of United is that they’re a team with many flaws but no real weaknesses. Compare them to their rivals: Manchester City have struggled with finding the right formation, and have problems with away form and breaking determined defences down. At United, experiments with a diamond aside, the formation has remained the same as it has for the past six years – slight variations on 4-2-3-1. Away form and home form have been near-indistinguishable, while they’ve looked to outscore any opposition.

    Chelsea, meanwhile, have had problems with home form under Rafael Benitez, and have frequently blundered into a couple of traps in team selection which have thrown a spanner in the works. Ferguson’s obsession with versatility in recent years means that, while bizarre team selections are very much a feature, they all work on a basic level. United remain the only team where the teamsheet can be announced an hour before kick-off and it could be any one of six different arrangements, each one equally likely.

    Ultimately, weaknesses like the ones Chelsea and City have scupper title bids – mysterious, intangible problems which plague a team over the course of an entire season. It’s possible to win the league with a weakness at something solid and obvious like having a weak left-back, or ineffective wingers. It’s not possible to win it with a more mysterious problem, like continually conceding late goals, or struggling away from home. After all, the former can be noticed, analysed, and allowances can be made. It’s not the case with the latter kind of problem, and it’s usually one of those that second-placed teams end up saddled with, driving managers grey and nail-bitten at facing a chronic disease to which the cure is unknown.

    That is the reason why Manchester United are favourites, despite possession a far weaker and more flawed squad than either Chelsea or Manchester City. It may be that at the end of the season Ferguson, Giggs and Scholes all ride into the sunset together and take that sense of surety with them, but for now, United’s strength makes an odd sort of sense: a team with many flaws, but few weaknesses.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

  12. han says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    Fuckin hell Mate… why not just dip your cock in honey, and stick it in an ants nest.

    aye
    amazing sensations
    made it so big couldn’t get it out though

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