Man United Lift FA Cup Before Van Gaal Departure

This weekend saw Crystal Palace and Manchester United battle for one of the most storied trophies in European competition: the FA Cup. The two sides have both experienced disappointing campaigns, with Palace sliding all the way down to 15th in the table, and United narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification. Despite the less than stellar league campaigns, fans for both clubs came out in full force and provided an electrifying atmosphere at Wembley. The last time these two sides had met in the final, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United slipped by with a 1-0 victory on a replay as the famous Scot sealed his first piece of silverware for the Red Devils in 1990. It would prove to be another dramatic day for both clubs, as another manager picked up his first piece of silverware.

The Red Devils started out the brighter of the two sides with Marcus Rashford testing Palace’s backline twice within the opening ten minutes. The 18-year-old’s pace and creativity on the ball saw United attack with purpose, and speed, something that fans have been missing since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club three years ago. United continued to press through the opening 15 minutes, but never really tested Wayne Hennessey in net.

After absorbing wave after wave of attack to start the match, Palace finally looked dangerous in the 17th minute. An excellent through ball from Damien Delaney sent Connor Wickham and Chris Smalling into a dead sprint down the sideline. Smalling looked to be even for pace with the Palace striker, but ended up being just a second late as he pulled Wickham to the ground to earn a yellow card.. Commentators argued that Mark Clattenburg should have played the advantage for Palace after the foul as Wickham quickly got up and took the ball into the box, but the veteran official already had his mind made up.

Four minutes later, Juan Mata forced Hennessey into his first real save of the match. The Spanish midfielder’s shot didn’t look too powerful, but replays revealed that it was destined for the bottom corner of the net had Hennessey not gotten a hand to it. Moments later, Marouane Fellaini looked to have an open header from a corner kick, only for the Belgian to miss time his jump. Would this prove to be another day of missed chances coming back to bite Louis Van Gaal’s club?

In the 33rd minute, Marcus Rashford was again terrorizing the Palace backline. After skipping past his defender, he sent in a quick, low cross through the box to Anthony Martial. The French striker hammered a first time shot towards the net, only for an excellent block from Joel Ward to deny a clear goal.

Both sides had bright moments through the first 45 minutes, but neither was able to find a breakthrough. Despite the goalless score line, fans couldn’t have complained about a lack of excitement as both sides were clearly putting it all on the line during their final game of the season.

In the 53rd minute, a delightful flick from Rashford put Fellaini through on goal. The big Belgian sliced a shot towards the top corner and all Wayne Hennessey could do was pray that it wasn’t about to find the back of the net. Luckily for the keeper, and all of Palace’s supporters, the powerful drive cannoned back off the corner of the woodwork and the sides remained deadlocked.

The breakthrough finally came in the 78th minute, and much to my dismay it came for Crystal Palace. James Puncheon, who surprisingly did not start the match, looked to be the hero for the Eagles after hitting a lovely volley to beat De Gea at the near post. The goal sent Palace’s fans into a frenzy and even drove manager Alan Pardew to break out into a little jig on the touchline. Oh how that premature dance would come back to haunt him…

Not even three minutes later, United found their equalizer. An unbelievable run from Wayne Rooney through the heart of the pitch started the chance as he beat five Palace defenders before sending in a cross to the far post. Fellaini knocked it down with his chest, and Juan Mata was there to fire it home from close range. The Spaniard’s shot was nearly blocked on the line, but it had just enough power on it to squeeze through and send the final into extra time.

The only real moment of drama from the first period of added time came right at the end of it. A quick counter attack from Palace caught United’s defense out of position as Chris Smalling was forced to go one-on-one with Yannick Bolasie. The pacy midfielder slid past Smalling, and the English international decided to take one for the team, pulling down Bolasie before he could break into a sprint. Unfortunately for LvG’s squad, it earned Smalling a deserved second yellow card and United were going to have to play the last 15 minutes with just ten men.

In the final ten minutes, United began to push for a winner. First, Michael Carrick, who rarely ever finds the back of the net, came within inches of wining the cup with a free header, only for the ball to just wide of the far post. The Red Devils continued to press Palace’s backline and in the 110th minute they were rewarded. After Antonio Valencia’s pass into Martial was blocked, Jesse Lingard hit a picture perfect first-time volley into the roof of the net to seal United’s 12th FA Cup title and first since 2004.

The trophy brought a happy ending to an otherwise demoralizing season at Old Trafford, and if reports are to be believed, it could have capped off Van Gaal’s time at the club, as well. For Palace, the fact that they even made it to the final is amazing. For them to come so close to lifting the club’s first ever major piece of silverware shows the talent they have in the squad. It was an emotional rollercoaster of a game, and I can’t say I was 100 percent positive throughout the 120 minutes, but all that matters is that the FA Cup is finally coming home. Glory, glory Man United.

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.

 

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