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Five talking points ahead of the FA Cup final

Manchester City take on Manchester United in the FA Cup final this weekend, a blockbuster clash under the arch at Wembley.

Pep Guardiola’s side will be aiming to add the FA Cup to their Premier League title success, as the Citizens look to secure a historic treble this season with the Champions League final still to come.

United, meanwhile, won the League Cup earlier this season and will be determined to stop City in their pursuit of immortality.

Ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup final showdown between the two local rivals, we look at five talking points.

The biggest FA Cup final in modern memory?

The FA Cup might have lost some of the glamour it once held, but it’s difficult to think of a recent final that has captured the interest quite like this one.

The 1980s saw Liverpool and Everton – then English football’s dominant sides – contest two Merseyside Derbies in FA Cup finals, but this weekend’s cup decider will be a first for Manchester’s footballing rivalry.

Never before has there been a Manchester Derby in a domestic cup final, while City’s pursuit of a treble this season – an achievement only Manchester United have previously accomplished – has added to the narrative of this encounter.

City will start as favourites at Wembley, but United will be desperate to end their rival’s bid to match their unique treble success from 1998/99. There’s more than just local pride at stake in this one.

Rashford through the centre?

Marcus Rashford has carried the goalscoring burden for Manchester United this season with the forward having become the first player in a decade to score 30 goals in a campaign for the club.

Rashford’s return to form has been the driving force in the Red Devils’ encouraging season under Erik ten Hag and the boyhood red will be determined to make an impact in this weekend’s final.

Anthony Martial’s absence and Wout Weghorst’s struggle for goals could see Rashford used through the centre, a tactic which could work as United look to exploit City on the counter-attack.

Pep Guardiola’s change in system has seen John Stones move into midfield from a centre-back position and Rashford’s pace could be utilised on the break when City move into a defensive three shape.

Moving the 25-year-old into a central role could also free Rashford from Kyle Walker’s attention, with the Manchester City right-back’s pace often negating even the fastest forwards. Walker impressed in his duel with Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior during the Champions League semi-finals and Ten Hag will not want his side’s key threat to suffer from the same shackles.

Who will thrive on neutral ground?

Recent results between the sides have been evenly shared, with the last nine encounters poised perfectly at four wins each and one draw. The two Premier League meetings this season each ended in wins for the home side, with Manchester United securing a 2-1 win at Old Trafford just months after a 6-3 thrashing at the Etihad.

Much has been made about Manchester United’s form away from home this season with the Red Devils having struggled in away clashes against the Premier League’s top sides. United failed to beat any of the Premier League’s top nine away from home this season, a run of results which included heavy defeats at Brentford (4-0), City (6-3) and Liverpool (7-0).

However, City’s record on the road has not been much better. In those same fixtures against the Premier League’s top nine this season, Pep Guardiola’s side have won just once. The club’s 3-1 win at Arsenal was the champion’s sole victory against the top nine, having lost at Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham and Brentford and drawn games at Newcastle, Aston Villa and Brighton.

Who adapts best to the neutral venue at Wembley could be decisive in a high-pressure cup final.

Guardiola and Ten Hag chase history

If Pep Guardiola retired tomorrow, he’d be remembered as one of football’s all-time great coaches. Guardiola could add another chapter to his legend with treble success this season, a feat that would add weight to his argument as the finest manager the game has seen.

Erik ten Hag has some distance to go in an attempt to match Guardiola’s achievements, but the Dutchman is chasing his own piece of history this weekend. Ten Hag ended the club’s six-year wait for major silverware with League Cup success in February and could become the first Manchester United manager to win a domestic cup double with a win at Wembley.

The FA Cup and League Cup double has been achieved on just five occasions previously, with Arsenal (1992/93), Liverpool (2000/01 and 2021/22), Chelsea (2006/07) and Manchester City (2018/19) having won both competitions in the same season.

Ten Hag could also become just the third manager to win two trophies in his debut season in the Premier League, after Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho (2004/05) and Carlo Ancelotti (2009/10). That’s not bad company to keep.

How do Manchester United stop Haaland?

Manchester United will be preparing a game-plan to stop Erling Haaland this weekend, an objective few teams have succeeded in achieving during the forward’s record-breaking campaign.

Haaland has scored 52 goals in all competitions this season, the second-highest scoring individual campaign in English football history. Haaland scored a hat-trick when the sides met in the Premier League in October, but struggled to impact the return meeting at Old Trafford.

The 22-year-old failed to register a shot on target and had an xG of just 0.16 during City’s 2-1 defeat, with United using a defensive double-pivot of Casemiro and Fred to restrict the supply into the Norwegian.

Lisandro Martinez’s absence this weekend has been viewed as a blow to the Red Devils, but the Argentine did not feature during United’s win over City earlier this season. Luke Shaw was used at centre-back alongside Raphael Varane, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Tyrell Malacia providing athletic options on the flanks.

How Ten Hag plans for Haaland will be a fascinating sub-plot to this weekend’s final.

Read –Β Five of the most memorable Manchester Derby moments

Read Also –Β Noughties Nines: Carlos Tevez – El Apache

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