The Hard Tackle lists three players who can singlehandedly influence the tie when Manchester City and Manchester United clash in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday.
This is it. After seven rounds of gruelling match-ups, we have reached the title decider in the FA Cup. The stage is set at Wembley for the first-ever Manchester Derby in the FA Cup final as Manchester City and Manchester United get set to lock horns on Saturday evening.
Manchester City will have the treble in sight as they look to emulate the 1999 Manchester United team. The Citizens already have the Premier League title in the bag. And if they win the two finals in the coming week, Pep Guardiola’s men will script history after several near-misses in the last few years.
Manchester United will be desperate to stop their noisy neighbours and keep the record all to themselves. The Red Devils are the only English club to have completed the elusive treble. So they have the added motivation to pour cold water on Manchester City’s aspirations.
With the stakes being as high as they are, the margin of error will be negligible on Saturday. And a few players will inadvertently singlehandedly influence the FA Cup final. So The Hard Tackle lists three such stars ahead of the title decider between Manchester City and Manchester United at Wembley.
Ilkay Gündogan: "It is a privilege. It is a privilege to be the captain of this group and this amazing club. It is a big honour. It is another final and finals especially are played on a different level. Obviously, I want to support my teammates as good as possible as the captain… pic.twitter.com/bk1GchGaaF
— City Report (@cityreport_) June 2, 2023
Whenever we compile such lists for high-stakes games, strikers and attackers are all the rage. But the midfield battle often decides closely-contested affairs, especially when it is a knockout fixture in a cup competition. So our feature begins with Manchester City’s Captain Fantastic, Ilkay Gundogan.
The German international has been a trusted lieutenant for Pep Guardiola since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in 2016. And he has gradually evolved to become a well-rounded midfielder. The experienced midfielder currently serves his club as the captain, and he has embraced the added responsibility.
The 32-year-old’s future is uncertain ahead of the summer transfer window. And widespread reports have linked him with high-profile clubs like Barcelona, Chelsea, and Arsenal. But links with Chelsea, Barcelona, and others have not distracted Gundogan much.
The veteran midfielder has continued to perform at a high level, even as his contract nears expiration. And Gundogan will again hold the key with his ghosting runs into the Manchester United box. Expect another top-quality display from the Manchester City captain on Saturday.
— The United Stand (@UnitedStandMUFC) June 2, 2023
We will continue with the midfield battle in a while, but we first take a small detour. And as we pick an attacker, Marcus Rashford, Erling Haaland, and Bruno Fernandes get honourable mentions. But our second pick for the list is Alejandro Garnacho.
The teenage sensation has gradually been regaining the sharpness and fitness for Manchester United’s season finale. And his recent cameos have shown that Garnacho is on top of his game and back to his best after recovering from an ankle injury.
The 18-year-old will provide the x-factor with his directness and clever change of pace on the left flank. And Manchester United will fancy their chances if Kyle Walker starts as the right-sided centre-back. But Garnacho will be in the thick of the equation even if Manuel Akanji takes up the spot.
The youngster has the raw brilliance a coach cannot train into him. And if he takes the game to Manchester City, Manchester United will be in business on Saturday. Expect a game-changing performance from Alejandro Garnacho.
Fred is unhappy with his involvement at United 👀🔴 pic.twitter.com/w7AoLJlpfL
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) May 31, 2023
We are back to the midfield battle, and our list ends with a Manchester United midfielder. And as is usually the case in these features, we have picked more players from the underdog. We are talking about Fred, who should make a rare start for the Red Devils on Saturday.
Christian Eriksen has blown hot and cold since returning from an ankle injury. And while the Danish playmaker can threaten Manchester City with his creative abilities in open play and set-piece situations, his performance levels have not been high. In addition, Fred has been the difference-maker in a recent Manchester Derby.
Erik ten Hag had a trick up his sleeve the last time Manchester United and Manchester City clashed this season. The Dutch tactician assigned Fred to exclusively man-mark Kevin De Bruyne. That helped the Red Devils cut off passing lanes while keeping City’s creative supremo quiet.
Fred will have the same role again on Saturday as Manchester United look to keep De Bruyne at bay. And if the Brazilian international succeeds, the Red Devils will have a solid chance of coming out on top in the FA Cup final. So Fred’s performance will be one to watch this weekend.