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It was as many predicted; cagey, slow and tactical. Those craving a strong performance to blow Crystal Palace away were left biting their nails as a tight game couldn’t be settled over 90 minutes. Crystal Palace took the lead late on after Manchester United were sloppy not to get up the pitch fast enough following the clearance of a corner. It left the Reds just over 10 minutes to salvage the final and they responded in kind.
Wayne Rooney stood up and drove the team forwards, weaving his way past 4 defenders before standing a ball up to the back post for Juan Mata to fire home via Marouane Fellaini. With Chris Smalling then sent off in extra time, it felt as though the Reds were clinging on for penalties. Step forward Jesse Lingard; the United winger came off the bench and struck a superb volley in extra time to send fans into delirium. It was a performance characteristic of an underwhelming season, but the end result was all that mattered; here are 5 things we learned from Manchester United’s FA Cup victory.
1) A Captain’s Performance
Whatever your thoughts on Wayne Rooney and his place at Manchester United, the skipper stood up and drove the team to glory on Saturday evening. The only domestic trophy that United’s captain was yet to lift came to fruition after a gruelling final in which Rooney helped to drag his team over the line.
Much talk has centred on the former Everton man’s transition into a midfield role and his performance at Wembley showed signs that he may well have a future in the middle of the park. There were sloppy moments in possession, but Rooney’s passing was vital in spreading the play and keeping possession ticking. More evident, however, was Rooney’s hunger and energy, tracking back with real purpose and it was his determined run from midfield which set up the all important equaliser. It was a performance to be proud of from the man with the armband.
2) Youth Shines Through
It’s the stuff of dreams to play at Wembley in a cup final for your boyhood, local side. That dream came true for Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard on Saturday and their inclusions were far from token gestures.
Once more Rashford impressed leading the line and losing the forward following a deplorable stamp from Cabaye was a huge blow. Had others been more clinical Rashford may well have been instrumental in at least a couple of goals on the biggest stage.
Jesse Lingard was perhaps unfortunate to start the final on the substitutes bench but that was not to stop him leaving his mark on the final. The winger who joined Manchester United at the age of 7 produced a match winning moment deep into extra time with a sublime volley. With huge money spent in recent times it was refreshing and poetic that United’s winner should come from an academy product; and it made the victory that little bit more special.
3) Farewell Carrick?
With his contract coming to an end in the summer, the future of Michael Carrick at Manchester United is far from certain. Saturday evening at Wembley may well have been his final game for the Old Trafford outfit, and it was fitting and a very kind gesture of Wayne Rooney to share trophy lifting duties with the midfielder.
Carrick has served the club impeccably since joining in 2006 and has been instrumental in many trophies that now adorn the club’s cabinets. Time will tell if the former Spurs man remains at the club beyond the summer, but if Saturday is to be his final game for United, it was a fitting end for a player who has served the club wonderfully well for a decade.
4) Van Gaal’s Swan Song?
Barely half-an-hour had passed after lifting the FA Cup before news was breaking that Louis van Gaal will be relieved of his duties as manager of Manchester United. Speculation has been rife for months but there is now a real conclusive sense of inevitability that the Dutchman won’t be in the dugout come the start of next season.
There’s no doubt that his tenure has been far from an unqualified success story, most would argue quite the contrary. Nevertheless, if Saturday proves to be the Dutchman’s final game in charge he will leave having won major trophies in every country that he has managed. The time is surely right for the former Ajax manager to step aside, but lifting the trophy should provide pride in departure.
5) Mourinho’s Manchester?
As has been widely reported, Jose Mourinho will almost certainly be taking the reigns at Old Trafford. It sparks the beginning of a new era at the club which many hope will bring a wealth of success. Louis van Gaal underperformed with the resources at his disposal so it will be fascinating to see if the Reds can build on the cup final victory and challenge for the league next season.
Mourinho is widely denounced for playing negative football and completely ignoring youth development and that may bring cause for concern. It would be a surprise if the club didn’t spend big again this summer but it is hoped that this time round there will be a greater sense of direction and cohesion. Whether Mourinho’s appointment will bring short-term success at the expense of long-term development remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it certainly signals the return of United to the top of English football’s most hated list; and that is exactly how it should be.