FA Cup Could be Van Gaal’s Last Stand at Man United
By Alex Baker
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal is expected to lead the club to what will be its first trophy of the post-Alex Ferguson era as his team face Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final on Saturday. But the FA Cup is made for upsets and in the past few years alone, we’ve seen the likes of Portsmouth and Wigan Athletic lift the trophy.
For Crystal Palace – a team that’s never won a major trophy – winning the cup would be the biggest triumph in club history. United have the big stars and the talent to beat Palace on most days. But there’s a little something to this current Crystal Palace side under coach, Alan Pardew.
Palace started the season on fire, handing defeats to Chelsea, Liverpool and Southampton in the first half of the season. They also held United to a draw back in October. Pardew is a shrewd manager and typically sets his teams out to sit back and play deep which can allow players like Yannick Bolasie and Connor Wickham to hurt stronger teams on the break.
This has proved effective against more adventurous sides like Tottenham Hotspur, who Palace beat 1-0 earlier in this season’s cup competition. But the upside to United’s style of play under Van Gaal, which is oft criticized as boring, is that it’s cautious and patient. This could minimize opportunities for Palace and open up chances for Man U’s pacey forwards, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
Wayne Rooney meanwhile, will be playing on Saturday for the one major trophy that’s eluded him during his club career. The United striker has surprisingly never lifted the FA Cup and knowing that this is possibly his best chance could be a motivating factor.
But after having missed out on next season’s Champions League, being knocked out of the Europa League by archrivals Liverpool, and out of the Capital One Cup by Middlesbrough, will doing an FA Cup win over a team that finished 15th in the league be enough to inspire the United board to give Van Gaal another season?
Despite United being favorites, it looks increasingly unlikely that even a win in the competition will be enough to save Van Gaal’s job. Although the Dutchman has insisted an FA Cup triumph will make Manchester United’s season ”a success,” having failed to guide the club into next season’s Champions League means the cup is more likely to feel like a consolation prize. Provided they can win it in the first place that is.