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FA Cup final defeat clouds Manchester United's season

FA Cup final defeat clouds Manchester United's season

Sunday, June 04, 2023, 08:57 GMT+7
FA Cup final defeat clouds Manchester United's season
Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan celebrates scoring in the opening seconds of the FA Cup final against Manchester United. Photo: AFP

Manchester United's painful FA Cup final defeat to Manchester City casts a cloud over a largely impressive season under Erik ten Hag in which they ended their trophy drought and regained their place in the Champions League.

City's captain fantastic Ilkay Gundogan scored twice in a 2-1 win for the Premier League champions at Wembley -- including the fastest goal in FA Cup final history -- as his side stayed on track for a treble.

Ten Hag, in his first campaign at Old Trafford, praised his men for their performance against "probably the best team in the world" before reflecting on the overall campaign.

"We played a fantastic season and it's more than we could have expected before," he said.

"We were third in the league, we are qualified for the Champions League, and we won a trophy and we were in another final.

"So, yeah, I'm really happy with the performance from my team all over."

But in the cold light of day Ten Hag will be aware that although the scoreline was close at Wembley, Pep Guardiola's men were in control for most of the match against his largely toothless side.

Highs and lows 

United's campaign is difficult to sum up.

They beat Newcastle in the League Cup final in February to lift their first silverware since 2017 and finished third in the Premier League.

But their season has been also peppered with heavy defeats -- they were mauled 4-0 by Brentford, 6-3 by Manchester City and 7-0 by Liverpool.

United briefly threatened to make the Premier League a three-horse race but in the end they finished 14 points behind City in the table, with just one more point than they achieved in the 2020/21 season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Marcus Rashford's career-best 30 goals in all competitions papered over the cracks up front, with United short of alternative firepower

Forward Anthony Martial and winger Antony were unfit for the final at Wembley, leaving Wout Weghorst -- who has failed to score a single Premier League goal since he arrived on loan in January -- as one of Ten Hag's attacking options.

By contrast, City had a bench packed with attacking quality, including Julian Alvarez, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden.

Another expensive summer rebuild is required to get United back to the standards Ten Hag demands.

The club has been strongly linked with Tottenham and England forward Harry Kane but could face a tough battle to prise him from the hands of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy.

The position of goalkeeper is also a major talking point after several high-profile errors from David de Gea in recent weeks.

The Spaniard, who won the Premier League Golden Glove award, was slow to react to Gundogan's shot for the second goal.

De Gea has yet to sign a new contract at Old Trafford even though his deal expires in a matter of weeks.

Ten Hag avoided commenting on his goalkeeper's performance, saying "we played all a great season, including David De Gea".

The situation at United is complicated by uncertainty over the ownership of the club, which could impact transfer plans during the summer window.

The unpopular Glazer family has still not made a decision on the future of the club even though they announced in November they were considering a sale.

Co-owner Avram Glazer was at Wembley for the final and ignored questions about the takeover.

"I think in this moment I don't want to discuss that," Ten Hag said when asked about the takeover situation and potential transfers.

"It's about finalising the season," he said. "We have to be quiet, analyse the season, go into the depth, then set the right conclusions and then take action. It's about that."

The former Ajax boss is single-minded about his aim of restoring United to former glories.

"I have only one plan and that is to improve this club and to improve this team," he said.

"I will fight for (that). I have my ideas and I already talked with the club about what we have to do for that."

AFP

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