It’s the FA Cup final this weekend, a date in the calendar that used to send me all giddy as a kid. I’m still not happy about this 5:30pm kick-off nonsense but the game itself should be a belter.
I remember back in the scorching summer of 1990 when Manchester United and Crystal Palace played out a dreamy 3-3 draw beneath the Twin Towers, and if you fancy a repeat of that scoreline you can get a whopping 125/1 with Bet Victor. Alas, I don’t envisage that there will be a boatload of goals at this season’s Wembley showpiece, where the Red Devils are a pretty warm 3/4 shot to win in 90 minutes.
It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the Mancunians, who found a suspicious package in the bogs at Old Trafford on Sunday, then lost a Champions League spot to bitter rivals Manchester City a few hours later. The pressure is firmly on Louis van Gaal, who has a year left to run on his contract but is seen as unlikely to still be in charge at M16 beyond the summer. If this is to be Van Gaal’s final game in the United hotseat, I for one will miss him. The man is absolute box office whether he is wearing those dodgy Bond villain glasses like he did against Norwich, calling a Sun journalist a “fat man”, forgetting Chris Smalling is actually called Chris Smalling, or doing swallow dives on the touchline mid-match like a drunk Sunday League manager. In a modern game sadly devoid of real characters, the Dutch geezer with the ‘Swiss Toni’ bouffant stands proud.
Palace are not the rank outsiders they were in that red-hot summer of 1990, but it would still cause a few ripples in the world of football should the Eagles do the business on Saturday. They were spanked 4-1 by Southampton in their last league match and also lost 2-0 at Old Trafford against Manchester United a few weeks ago. You can’t read too much into that result, however, as Alan Pardew rested several of his star names.
One star name who will be busting a gut to shoot down The Red Menace is Wilfried Zaha. After joining the Old Trafford giants for £15million in 2013, Zaha never got an extended run in the side and spent 18 months doing in the rounds on the loan circuit before Palace brought him back in 2015. He only made four starts under David Moyes but it was LVG who shipped him out of the Theatre of Dreams and the man named last week as Palace’s Player of the Year is an 8/1 shot to score in the match. He’s only scored five this season, but two of those came in the FA Cup as he notched in a 2-1 win against Southampton and scored the winner a round later at home to Stoke. 8/1? I like them apples.
In terms of how the match will go I fancy United to dominate possession with Palace looking to pick them off on the counter. This won’t be the procession some think it might and there could be mileage in backing Man United to win by one goal. The days of this club butchering teams with breathtaking displays of attacking joie de vivre are long gone. Caution is now the watchword.
It’s been well documented of course that claiming an FA Cup winner’s medal has been beyond Wayne Rooney so far in a glittering career. If United are to win, the one-time Scouse prodigy will surely have to feature prominently. He was superb against Bournemouth in the week, pulling the strings in the middle of the park. He looks fresh and he looks fit, which is good news for Mancunians of a red persuasion and for England fans. I also reckon ‘Wazza’ looks a bet here at 13/2 to be named Man of the Match. If he has a tidy game, given the sub-plot about never having won football’s oldest knock-out trophy, he will surely be there or there snouts in the MOM stakes so this looks a spot of value.
Betting: Manchester United to win by one goal at 12/5 (Paddy Power)
Betting: Rooney to be named Man of the Match at 13/2 (Paddy Power)
Betting: Zaha to score anytime at 8/1 (bet365)