While the Premier League and the Champions League are widely seen as the premier competitions for an English club to win, the FA Cup still holds a special place in the hearts and minds of football fans hailing from the United Kingdom.
This year’s contest will be particularly interesting given it’s a Manchester derby between two top four Premier League outfits. Man City are the prohibitive favourites with those who bet on football, with Pep Guardiola’s men garnering a short price of 8/15, while Man United are outsiders at 11/2.
It’s easy to see why punters are so optimistic about the Sky Blues’ chances, as they recently won their third consecutive Premier League title and seventh in 12 years. Couple that with the fact that they have the opportunity to become just the second team in the England top-flight’s history to secure the historic treble (Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League), and Kevin De Bruyne and company will be entering this upcoming FA Cup fixture brimming with confidence.
Write off a club as accomplished as the Red Devils at your own risk however, and given it is a one-off game at a neutral venue, anything can happen. While gameplans and mid-game adjustments will be crucial in determining the winner on June 3, it is the individual match-ups that could arguably prove even more pivotal.
With that in mind, read on as we take a look at a few of the intriguing individual battles we are likely to see in the FA Cup final between these cross-city rivals.
Marcus Rashford/John Stones
No-one has ever doubted Marcus Rashford’s talent – however – he hasn’t been able to put it all together consistently since joining the professional ranks in 2015. That was until this season, as the 25-year-old has been sublime for United as the club’s main striker. With the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo earlier this season, there has been greater pressure heaped on the shoulders of Rashford, and he has taken to the role like a duck to water.
With 28 goals across all competitions this campaign, Rashford has come into his own, and could pose City plenty of problems. That is why John Stones will need to play an integral role in trying to limit the damage of his England teammate. Stones has experienced yet another solid season in 2022/23, completing a league-leading 93% of his passes and being successful on 92% of his tackles at the time of writing.
He will need every ounce of his consistent tackling against a player as explosive as Rashford – and if he can swarm the United talisman effectively early on, it could go a long way to giving City the upper-hand.
Kevin De Bruyne/Bruno Fernandes
When looking at the match-up in the midfield, City have the clear advantage. That’s not to say that Bruno Fernandes isn’t an elite player, it’s just that he will be going up against arguably the best player in the Premier League in Kevin De Bruyne. The latter has had an exceptional season, notching up ten goals and 28 assists – with 16 of those assists coming in the Premier League. That is the most by anyone in 2022/23, and the second most of De Bruyne’s career.
While his numbers aren’t as eye-popping, Fernandes has most certainly had a solid season. With nine goals and 12 assists across all competitions, the Portuguese star has proven to be one of United’s biggest threats with the ball at his feet. If he can slow the game down and starve his opposition of possession, United stand a chance of winning the battle in the midfield.
Erling Haaland/Lisandro Martinez
If De Bruyne is deemed the best player in the Premier League today in many people’s eyes, you would have to say at this stage that Erling Haaland is grabbing the mantle as the second-best player. Boasting 52 goals, a record-setting 36 of which came in the Premier League, the Norwegian’s résumé this season speaks for itself.
The 22-year-old’s athleticism and awareness in front of goal is unlike any player in the game today, and if United aren’t careful, he has the talent to put multiple past them in the early proceedings. That is why Red Devils central defender Lisandro Martinez will be so pivotal if his side is to upset the applecart.
For what the 5’9 Argentinian lacks in size, he makes up for in positional play, toughness and overall football IQ. If Martinez can use his muscular and squat physique to his advantage by utilising power to disrupt Haaland’s driving runs into the box, it gives Erik ten Hag’s men a strong hope.