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How Erik ten Hag Can Lead Manchester United to FA Cup Glory Over Manchester City

 How Erik ten Hag Can Lead Manchester United to FA Cup Glory Over Manchester City

Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United
Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United lifts the FA Cup trophy with Erik ten Hag, manager of Manchester United, after the Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on May 25, 2024 in London, England(Image-Getty) 

How Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United Can Overcome Manchester City in the FA Cup Final

Alex Keble examines the strategies and tactics Manchester United's Erik ten Hag might employ to secure a win against Manchester City in the FA Cup final.

 Man City vs. Man Utd: A Year in Review

Much has changed since Manchester City and Manchester United last met in the 2023 FA Cup final. Back then, City emerged victorious with a 2-1 win at Wembley, highlighting the progress United were making under Erik ten Hag. However, fast forward to the present, and the scenario is quite different. United finished their Premier League season at their lowest-ever position, while City secured their fourth consecutive title under Pep Guardiola.

Despite these contrasts, it's not a straightforward prediction. Ten Hag has demonstrated a willingness to adopt defensive strategies in recent Manchester derbies, focusing on soaking up pressure and hitting City on the break. This approach has shown potential, and it could be the key to a "smash-and-grab" victory on Saturday.

 Tactical Insights from Previous Encounters

The Premier League meeting in March 2024, where City won 3-1, provides valuable insights into how this FA Cup final might unfold. United took a defensive stance and even led 1-0 at one point. Ten Hag described it as a "good performance," emphasizing their ability to follow the game plan.

However, statistics tell a different story. City dominated possession and shot attempts, reflecting their control of the match. United had an expected goals (xG) of just 0.22 in the first half compared to City's 2.73, indicating that City's dominance might have been understated by the scoreline.

Despite this, Ten Hag is likely to stick to a similar defensive strategy, given its previous partial successes.

United’s Likely Formation and Strategy

Ten Hag’s strategy may involve a 4-4-2 formation without a traditional striker. Instead, Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay could act as "false nines." This tactic, used in their previous encounter, saw United drop deep to cover City's midfield runs, leading to an often erratic shape but potentially effective in disrupting City's rhythm.

Key Player Roles

Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay:

 These players will likely be pivotal, dropping into midfield to support deeper central midfielders like Casemiro. Their roles will be crucial in man-marking City's midfield runners and maintaining defensive solidity.

Mateo Kovacic:

For City, Kovacic's role alongside Rodri will be critical in maintaining possession and building attacks through the midfield. United’s ability to disrupt this partnership could be a determining factor in the match.

 Counter-Attacking Opportunities

If United can stifle City’s midfield, they can exploit counter-attacking opportunities. Players like Amad Diallo and Alejandro Garnacho will be vital in making runs behind City’s high defensive line, with Fernandes looking to find them with through balls. United lead the Premier League in direct attacks, and Fernandes is second in successful through balls, emphasizing their strength in this approach.

 Defensive Challenges on the Flanks

However, even if United manage to block the central areas, City’s wide play remains a threat. Guardiola’s tactical adjustments, such as repositioning players like Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne to the wings, have previously overwhelmed United’s full-backs. This strategy was effective in both their last encounter and a 3-0 win earlier in the season.


Manchester United face a significant challenge in the FA Cup final against a dominant Manchester City side. Ten Hag’s defensive strategy, focusing on soaking up pressure and counter-attacking, offers a potential pathway to victory but requires flawless execution. United must disrupt City’s midfield flow, effectively counter-attack, and handle the wide threats posed by Guardiola’s tactical adjustments. It’s a tall order, reflecting why City are the favorites, but with precise strategy and determination, United could secure a crucial victory.

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