Manchester City 2-1 Manchester United (FA Cup Final)
It’s been a while. Well over a month in fact, since my last ‘live’ attended soccer game. I’ve started cricket scoring in the summer so whilst missing out on ‘the business end’ of the football season, I’ve instead opted for the calm and serenity of Trent Bridge, New Road, Worcester and Grace Road, Leicester, for a slower pace of ball game.
I’ve had this weekend booked in for a while though, the FA Cup Final and a ‘first-ever’ all Manchester affair in what is English football’s showpiece event, the only issue is, the trains are striking and I’m having to drive down on Friday night to park up at Tower Bridge which I’m sure is going to cost me a few quid.
The wife’s already here, she had a swanky black tie works do hosted by Katherine Ryan on Thursday night so I’m meeting her at the hotel, dropping the dog off at the mother-in-law's for 5pm I’m cruising down the M1 which is in parts heavy no thanks to a lack of public transport available.
I’m finally off at junction two and onto the A1 before cutting through the beautifully leafy looking Highgate Hill, people sitting outside the pubs in the evening sunshine, Hampstead Heath to my right, ahead of a change in scenery as I hit the graffitied walls of Kentish Town, before bustling and busy districts in Islington and Shoreditch take my eye, finally reaching Tower Hamlets around 8:30pm.
We’ve got Sky Gardens booked at 9pm, a quick change of clothes and we're sipping champagne high up before heading back to the hotel where the view from their rooftop bar is equally as stunning, without the hoards of tourists taking selfies.
The next morning it’s a bit of shopping on Carnaby Street before heading back to the hotel, we’ve got on the tube at Aldgate to the ground at 12:30pm and as the hoards of United & City fans hop on at St Pancras, we are given some rather annoying news as the train stops off at Great Portland Street.
“Due to signalling issues they’ll be no more service on this train, please get off the train and walk to Baker Street”
Now, the reason why, I got on at Aldgate, was because it’s the first stop on the Metropolitan Line which takes you straight to Wembley Park, so in guaranteeing a seat we get relative comfort, and having been many times to Baker Street, where the chaos is often, well, chaotic, I didn’t fancy squeezing on with 30,000 plus fans, so instead, made the desperate decision to take a taxi.
The wife’s hailed a black cab down who says it’ll cost £60 and take forty minutes, he’s optimistic, it’s roughly 1pm and by 2pm I’m sat on Ealing Road, a twenty minute walk away and the traffic is not moving at all.
We decide to hop out, walk the remainder, finally getting to the Club Wembley entrance with a sweat on at 2:30pm, half hour till kick off but I’ve still got to quash down a three-course meal, there’s no way I’m making Abide with Me.
Let’s face it, Wembley is stunning, the arch appears for miles on the horizon, the walk to the ground whether it be down the Olympic Way, or over the White Horse Bridge, gives you tingles the closer you approach, the underground Club Wembley entrance and escalators up to the second tier, giving you that ‘wow’ factor that asks ‘am I really in a football stadium’.
Inside is modern, new, littered with bars and food outlets, people drinking and taking in the surroundings, the third level of the Club Wembley section has a couple of members restaurants, we’re paired on a table with another couple of guests today… ‘What time do you call this’ one says, as no sooner have we sat down, a glass of prosecco is poured.
We’re eating against time, a salmon starter before a steak main, I’m still annoyed with the transport chaos as I leave my onion rings to head down for kick off, the waiter thankfully asks “would you like your dessert at half time?”
The teams are being announced, the name "number ten, Marcus Rashford" echoed as we walk frantically down to our seats behind the goal, the noise incredible, for the first time in a while, City have sold out their allocation, sky blue and white flags being waved in the West End, opposite United fans are in full voice, as the game begins.
No sooner have I sat down than the ball from kick off is lumped forward by City goalkeeper Ortega, Haaland challenges in the air, Lindelof nods it partially away, Gundogan volleys it back, and City are 1-0 up.
I’m up off my seat, hands on my head, ‘WTF’ I cry to the wife, the United fans have suddenly piped down, the Citizens section goes mad, it’s the quickest goal scored in FA Cup final history, I doubt it will ever be beaten.
Gundogan’s volley is exceptional, de Gea didn’t even move.
That goal settles any potential nerves that City may have had, they’re into their stride and completely dominant, I think to myself is their style quite ‘boring’? Not the fact that they are so great, so completely better than their opposition, but the fact they keep the ball with not much intent to go forward, just slowly wearing the opposition down who sit deep, United when they do finally get it back, are quickly harassed like flies around shit, off the ball City work ridiculously hard, but they can do, because it seems like it’s not very often they don’t have it.
Rodri goes close with a header which has half the blue half celebrating, the ball hitting the wrong side of the netting for a near miss, Haaland then tries his luck, beast like, turning from his defender and carrying forward before blazing over the bar at pace, De Bruyne is next, fizzing a low shot wide of the posts.
United haven’t yet had a shot on target, but ahead of the half hour they get a reprieve, Wan-Bissaka heads onto the back of Grealish’s hand, and after a lengthy VAR look, Referee Paul Tierney gives a penalty, for Bruno Fernandes to dispatch, and level up the scores.
At half time I race up to the restaurant to finish my dessert, a pistachio filled pastry which is more than ok, swirled down with a glass of white wine, I say to the guys on our table “It’s a good thing United have scored, which will now make City come out and attack”.
And that they did, no more than five minutes into the second half, De Bruyne pulls back a free kick to Gundogan who on the volley again, left footed, finds the bottom corner through a crowd, de Gea might not have been happy with his effort to keep it out, the German midfielder rolling one off his shin, via a few bounces into the bottom corner.
Marcus Rashford in response fired over with twenty or so minutes left, Gundogan had a hat-trick opportunity ruled out for offside, the lively Garnacho then fizzed wide after coming on as substitute, United’s best chance in the game in the 90th minute, the ball bouncing off Varane and Ortega onto the cross bar before McTominay headed over.
Ilkay Gundogan was man of the match and this was certainly ‘his moment’ as City took their second step to a now likely treble, the German midfielder aged 32 will be in his eighth season at the Etihad next year, only now is he finally being regarded as one of the best players in Premier League history, an underrated footballer who Pep Guardiola always relies on for the big matches.
Kevin De Bruyne was energetic, on the front foot for 76 minutes before he was substituted, Erling Haaland, whilst not having one of his best days, always a handful, he looks bigger, more powerful, more confident and more arrogant than anybody else on the pitch, late on he could have ran for goal to wrap things up and add another to his incredible season tally of 52, instead opting for the corner flag where he played it against a defender and punched to the air in front of his fans as he won some valuable time to waste.
A real life hero is Erling Haaland, who is more of a team player than you might think? Totally loved by those who regularly watch him play.
For United, a tough day at the office, they dug in, knowing that each and every player would have to be on their ‘A’ game. Teddy Sheringham on radio before the match stating they need to be at 9.5’s to take something from the game, no player in a red shirt probably higher than a 7.5, which in the end, led to the inevitable.
Garnacho was busy when he came on and looked most likely to threat the City backline, Rashford huffed and puffed in spells, Bruno stepped up when it mattered, he did one huge tackle in the first half which I really enjoyed, I had to look twice when I saw it was him, but it was City’s day, their dominant midfield in front of a solid line of ball playing cigar smoking defenders, keeping their opponents at arms length, whilst knowing they always had another gear to shift.
City, under Pep, are without doubt the best English club team I’ve ever witnessed, and it will be a travesty if they don’t win the Champions League under his guidance, this side have everything in their locker to suggest that they’ll see off Inter Milan on Saturday for a historic treble, from the billions in backing from their Abu Dhabi owners, to having the best coach, the best squad, and probably the best striker in world football. They may have upset a few accountants with how they have done things in recent years, but who wouldn’t want owners like the ones they have, who wouldn’t want to be riding the crest of a wave as part of Europe’s elite footballing team?
It's a funny old thing, as United were very much once that. I felt the supporters in red, even before the game at the weekend were quiet, resolute, subdued, perhaps expecting of what was to come, the noisy neighbours are really starting to move out of their ‘big brothers’ estate, to create their own Mancunian dynasty, and this one can even surpass that created by Sir Alex and his previous famous teams.
The only thing stopping City? Other than the courts, is if Pep hangs up his tactics board, then we’ll see really, how money plays a part in winning titles, because I'm starting to think his own guidance, is going to be irreplaceable.
Manchester City: Stefan Ortega, Kyle Walker (Aymeric Laporte 90), Ruben Dias, Manuel Akanji, John Stones, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne (Phil Foden 76), Ilkay Gundogan, Jack Grealish (Nathan Ake 89), Erling Haaland.
Manchester United: David de Gea, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Victor Lindelof (Scott McTominay 83), Luke Shaw, Casemiro, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Christian Eriksen (Alejandro Garnacho 62), Jadon Sancho (Wout Weghorst 78), Marcus Rashford.
3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 3rd June 2023, Wembley Stadium, London (att 83,179).