Image: Tom Purslow

Saturday afternoon, arguably the biggest game in all of English football will take place at Wembley. The FA Cup has seen its fair share of drama this season, and the stage is set for Manchester United and Crystal Palace to provide even more. Neither side has lived up to their respective expectations this campaign, and the cup final gives the clubs a chance to give their fans something to cheer about this season. United haven’t won the prestigious tournament since 2004 and Palace have never taken home the trophy in their history. Who can end their drought on Saturday?

For the Red Devils, this has certainly been a year to forget. A slew of poor results against clubs like Norwich City, Bournemouth and Sunderland saw the Red Devils finish fifth in the league and outside of the Champions League. This lackluster finish paired with the boring style of play on display has thrown Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal onto the hot seat. Rumors have constantly swirled this season that LvG is on the brink of an exit with José Mourinho reportedly on the brink of taking over at Old Trafford. A victory in the FA Cup would give the former Netherlands manager his first piece of silverware since taking over the club last season, and it may well be the last game that he manages for United. On a more optimistic note, an FA Cup Final would could spark a resurgence of the winning tradition that United enjoyed for so long, similar to the legendary run started by Sir Alex Ferguson when the Red Devils beat Palace in the 1990 final.

One of the lone bright spots for United supporters this season has been the magnificent play of their goalkeeper David De Gea. The Spanish keeper has single-handedly kept the Red Devils in the Champions League hunt at times, and you could argue that Real Madrid’s broken fax machine is the greatest thing to happen at Old Trafford since Ferguson’s departure. If it wasn’t for a heartbreaking last-minute own-goal from Chris Smalling midweek against Bournemouth, the 25-year-old would’ve shared the Premier League Golden Glove title with Petr Cech with 16 clean sheets. Similarly, to Van Gaal, this could be De Gea’s final game in the famous United kit with another potential move to Real Madrid reportedly looming on the horizon. Can he take home his first FA Cup trophy in potentially his last game at the club?

On the other side, Crystal Palace haven’t exactly been at their sparkling best either this season. Before a disastrous 2016 that saw them win just two of their final 18 games, Alan Pardew’s side sat as high as seventh in the table and were on the brink of qualifying for European competition. Losses to relegated Newcastle United, and Aston Villa highlighted the side’s poor form and just like United, this unlikely FA Cup run has given fans something to smile about. Palace’s 15th place finish this year was their worst since gaining promotion back into the top flight in 2013. Can they upset the mighty Man United to make up for a disappointing season and take home their first piece of top-flight silverware in club history?

Wilfried’s Zaha’s time at Manchester United was shortlived. After joining the Red Devils as one of the hottest youth prospects in England in 2013, the winger would make just four senior appearances without a single league start. Unable to break through under David Moyes, the Palace academy graduate would move back to Selhurst Park on a permanent basis in 2015. Zaha has established himself as one of Alan Pardew’s best attacking options this season alongside Yannick Bolasie. His pace and strength on the ball make him a constant threat on the wings, and I’m sure he would love to finally put one past his own club. Look for him to be a constant thorn in United’s side for all 90 minutes.

When these teams met in the 1990 final, it took two games to separate them. The likes of Ian Wright, Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes and even Alan Pardew took the field for those matches, and in the end a goal from Lee Martin proved to be the winner. As disappointing as this season has been as a United supporter, there have been spurts of good play and I think we’ll see one final good display on Saturday from the Red Devils. My prediction is that Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford find the back of the net as United narrowly win 2-1.


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