Manchester City 1 Manchester United 2: A Spectacular Ten Hag Goal Earns Them the FA Cup

Manchester United tore through the text with first-half goals from Alejandro Garnacho and Kobe Maino, seeing off the competitors. Manchester City’s FA Cup hopes dashed.

In what could potentially be Erik Ten Hag’s final match as United’s manager, with the club scouting possible replacements in case they decide to part ways with the Dutchman after two years, his team delivered their best performance of the season to conclude a tense period. The 2023-24 season ends on a high note with championship glory.

Pep Guardiola’s four-time consecutive Premier League champions kept pressing in the second half and narrowed the gap thanks to substitute Jeremy Doku. However, United held onto their FA Cup win for the thirteenth time.

Karl Anka, Mark Critchley, Dan Sheldon, and Sam Lee experienced an exhilarating afternoon at Wembley.

How Erik ten Hag Nailed His Tactical Approach
Amid looming job security clouds, Erik ten Hag was bold in his tactical choice.

The 4-2-2-2 formation that led Manchester United to victories against Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion was replayed at Wembley in the final two league games of the season. Lisandro Martínez paired with Rafael Varane as central defenders for the first time since the 4-3 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers on February 1st.

Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho operated on the wings, with Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes up front as split forwards. It appeared that United’s coach’s game plan was to contain Manchester City and then counter-attack. Within 10 minutes of the match, things seemed to be going well; United’s shape out of possession was more compact and fluid. The “big gap” analysts from the opposition talked about was a thing of the past.

When United lost the ball, they counter-pressed for five seconds in an attempt to regain it before retreating into their shell. Ten Hag’s men felt comfortable directing City’s attacks outward, confident that the center-backs could deal with any crosses into the box from Erling Haaland. When United regained possession, they moved quickly to break the threat.

Ten Hag secured his second trophy as United’s manager in what could be his last game in charge (Neil Simpson/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images)
If there was an issue, it became apparent when Kyle Walker once again outran Rashford. United’s attempts to get behind City’s back four had limited success. Every time they found a chink in the armor of Pep Guardiola’s team, the Premier League champions made an adjustment.

Then it happened.

A great long pass from Diogo Dalot, and Garnacho chased down United’s right flank. The 19-year-old won the race. If Guardiola thought he had the situation under control, the City defender returned a header to the advancing goalkeeper, Esteban Ortega. Garnacho seized his chance to slot the ball home, giving United the lead after half an hour.

“They’re very good at counter-pressing, but you can still find spaces and control the game,” said Dalot before the final.

United successfully lived up to his words with their second goal nine minutes later. A brief spell of composed possession saw the ball return to Garnacho on the right, who combined with Fernandes and sent a clever ball to Kobe Maino at the far post to make it 2-0.

Amid challenging circumstances, Ten Hag seemed to have got it right. Guardiola’s introductions of Jeremy Doku and later Julián Álvarez tried to stretch United’s compact shape, but they managed to hold on despite a late consolation goal from the former.

Maino’s Goal: Anatomy of a Classic Cup Final
If history remembers this match as Ten Hag’s last in charge, United at least secured one of their finest goals of his two seasons in charge: a goal that epitomized what he had been trying to achieve.

This was Exhibit A of how United’s manager wants his players to attack: aggressively on the break initially, but then with composure to finish in the penalty area. This may seem contradictory and has often appeared so this season, sometimes entirely unsustainable. But when it works, it’s thrilling.

The attack began as it ended, when Kobe Maino played a simple pass to Marcus Rashford in the left-hand channel, in the middle of his team’s half.

Delivering a cross-field pass from that position was ambitious, and the ball might not have had enough speed to expose City’s very high line, but Rashford’s thought was still quick enough to catch it with his trailing foot anyway.

However, what stood out was his speed and ingenuity in approaching and inside the penalty area, something that has been sorely lacking at United this season. Alejandro Garnacho first slowed the move, allowing Bruno Fernandes to glimpse Maino’s whereabouts, and then accelerated it.

Fernandes’s clean low delivery brought echoes of Teddy Sheringham at Wembley, and not just for England against Holland in Euro 96, but most crucially, he wore a United shirt in the 1999 FA Cup final to set up Paul Scholes for a crucial goal against Newcastle United. There was just one difference. Sheringham was looking in the right direction.

And for it to be Maino who applied the finishing touch, with all the composure we’ve come to expect from the teenage academy graduate in his impressive season, was fitting, not just because he started the move in the number one spot.

Whatever the future holds for United, Maino will be part of it, and rightly so, leading devastating football like this.

Mark Critchley

How United Exploited City’s High Line
From the early minutes, it was clear that Manchester United wasn’t going to attempt to control the game.

Erik ten Hag was content to let Manchester City have possession but wanted his players ready to exploit the opponent’s high line at any opportunity. The Dutchman aimed to capitalize on the speed of Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho to run behind City’s defense.

And it worked time and time again.

Though Jarnacho’s first goal came after a major error in the box between Josco Gvardiol and Stefan Ortega, it wouldn’t have happened if the Argentine hadn’t chased and forced a mistake.

Alejandro Garnacho, Manchester United

Alejandro Garnacho shoots into an empty net to open the scoring
United kept catching City off guard and was rewarded once more with another swift transition. This time, Rashford flicked the ball to Garnacho, who had acres of space. He then passed it to Bruno Fernandes, who set up Kobe Maino to double their lead.

City was content to be patient in attack before halftime, which is fine when keeping the back door closed, but the confusion on the first goal seemed to shake them: they seemed to rush things, leave spaces, and United capitalized with a brilliant second goal.

Guardiola wasted no time with his changes, making two of them at halftime, including introducing Jeremy Doku, who brought danger long before his late goal, and then the ineffective Kevin De Bruyne was withdrawn after 11 minutes.

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