Manchester City 1-2 Manchester United: Perfect time to sack Erik ten Hag

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Manchester United players Kobbie Mainoo and Marcus Rashford
Kobbie Mainoo celebrating his goal for Manchester United

Erik ten Hag made light of speculation regarding his future by engineering an excellent Manchester United performance to win the FA Cup at Wembley.

Ten Hag has been dogged by rumours surrounding his position as Manchester United manager this week, with it reported that ‘even winning the Cup would not save’ him from the sack after a dreadful season in the Premier League and Champions League.

But much like compatriot Louis van Gaal in 2016, Ten Hag seems likely to bow out with silverware secured in his final match.

Manchester City were overwhelming favourites but looked off the pace throughout, falling behind to Alejandro Garnacho after a terrible defensive mix-up between Josko Gvardiol and Stefan Ortega.

Manchester United doubled that lead nine minutes later with a sensational team move, culminating in a stunning Bruno Fernandes pass for Kobbie Mainoo to finish.

Pep Guardiola’s champions struggled to muster a response, with a double substitution at half-time and Kevin de Bruyne’s removal after 56 minutes underlining how their tactical plan had backfired.

Jeremy Doku, one of the players introduced at the break, set up a grandstand finish with a fine goal from outside the area, but Manchester United held on across seven minutes of stoppage-time to secure the trophy – and Europa League football next season with it.

It is the Red Devils boss’ second piece of silverware in as many seasons, but time will tell whether the trophy and Europa League qualification satisfies ambitious Ineos after limping home eighth in the league.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe was joined by Joel Glazer and Avram Glazer at Wembley, where United’s co-owners could not fail to have been impressed by Ten Hag’s game plan and his side’s output.

Most predicted City would become the first English side to win back-to-back domestic doubles fresh from sealing an unprecedented fourth straight top-flight title, but there appeared to be a hangover.

United, by contrast, were well-drilled and determined from the outset, with Garnacho capitalising on a defensive error to put Ten Hag’s side into a shock lead on the half-hour mark.

Mainoo coolly extended their advantage at the end of a fine team move before half-time, which City responded to strongly as Erling Haaland hit the bar during a period of pressure.

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There was late tension as the otherwise impressive Andre Onana let in a late Doku strike but the Red Devils were not to be denied as they ended a poor, injury-hit campaign with a win for Ten Hag, who will be hoping to avoid being sacked after winning the FA Cup like Louis van Gaal was in 2016.

A year on from Ilkay Gundogan’s stunning strike inside seconds of kick-off to set City on their way to victory, a rocking Wembley witnessed another electric start.

This time Marcus Rashford saw a dangerous run behind halted, sparking a City break that ended with Haaland going down in the box under pressure from Lisandro Martinez.

No penalty was awarded and play quickly settled as United held their defensive shape as the holders passively bossed possession. Ten Hag’s men were also primed to press with intensity when required.

Pep Guardiola’s men were a shadow of the side that wrapped up the title last weekend and gifted their rivals a 30th-minute opener.

Diogo Dalot’s hopeful ball forwards caused problems and Josko Gvardiol headed over Stefan Ortega rather than back to his goalkeeper under pressure from Garnacho.

The 19-year-old gleefully turned the loose ball into an empty net then ran off in celebration in front of the dazed City faithful.

United fans erupted again in the 37th minute, but Rashford’s tap-in was ruled out for an offside in the build-up.

It was a warning shot that City failed to heed as the underdogs impressively found the net again two minutes later.

Garnacho collected Rashford’s cross-field ball to the right and played onto Bruno Fernandes, whose excellent first-time pass put in Mainoo to coolly beat Ortega.

It was a first half few saw coming and Doku was part of a double half-time alteration from City, with the fleet-footed substitute passing for Haaland to hit the bar in the 55th minute.

Kevin De Bruyne was replaced by Julian Alvarez soon after and Onana produced a fantastic save to deny City skipper Kyle Walker from distance as pressure mounted.

Alvarez blazed over and then soon slotted wide having been slipped through, but United emerged from that period with half-chances at the other end.

Tensions became frayed as Walker lost his cool with substituted Martinez and City players claimed a penalty by Mainoo on Haaland.

Onana stopped a low Walker drive as the clock wound down, but he will be disappointed to have let in Doku’s low 20-yard strike at his near post in the 87th minute.

The nerves were palpable but United held on for a win to cherish.

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