Originally published by Pick Our Team on February 21 2013.
It’s about time the FA Cup returned to Old Trafford. While the Premier League takes priority, ending this season with just one piece of silverware in the bank would feel like an opportunity missed considering the names left in the running.
After United disposed of Reading on Monday night, only Chelsea, City and Wigan have qualified for the sixth round from the Premiership (Everton must first navigate a tricky reply). Championship and lower league giant killers round out the remaining contenders. It’s a cup that, on paper at least, is there for the taking.
That’s not to say that the likes of Barnsley and Oldham should be dismissed: their continued presence in the tournament is testament to their threat. However, with Middlesbrough and Chelsea battling for the chance to play United in the next round, surely it isn’t too controversial to suggest that facing the former is preferable to a tie against Roman’s real life Football Manager fantasy?
Terry and co have always looked at their most dangerous when written off or backed into a corner, and considering the indignities and calamities that have swept through Stamford Bridge this season it’s likely a match against United, the Premier League champions-elect, would inspire them to raise their game in order to win back some pride and morale from the bragging rights on offer. There’s also the small matter of defending a cup that currently adorns their name. A challenge from a direct rival would likely stir them into action.
Winning the FA Cup has become something of a paradox for Manchester United. Should the team lift the trophy this year, nine years on from the club’s last win, then the press and rival fans will bemoan big money dominance and a lack of romance. Should United crash out of the cup however, the competition is suddenly wounded and devalued by an aloof and arrogant top four side who no longer take the competition seriously anymore. Even if they win they cannot win.
On the contrary, claiming another FA Cup is serious stuff. A win this year would take the club’s total haul in the competition up to a historic 12 pots, extending their record as the cup’s most prolific champions. If the league can be secured then the club’s title numbers can be rounded up to 20. Both milestone figures would inject a sense of prestige and self-esteem to the club’s on-going story and heritage that is priceless.
Talk of a second treble, however appetising, is unlikely but not impossible, and out of all the numbers of trophy counts and wins, perhaps the most significant is a fourth European title. For a club of such standing and history, United have under-performed in the continental trophy stakes compared to their billing. Like Juventus, Manchester United lack the validation of four European wins to cement their standing among the likes of Ajax, Bayern, Milan and Real. While another Premier League title creates daylight between the domestic records at Old Trafford and Anfield, if the club is to truly knock the scousers off their perch, ‘we won it five times’ needs to be countered by at least six.
Sir Alex’s current side doesn’t look settled or balanced enough to win the Champions League but, as with the FA Cup, luck may be on their side. If Real can be overcome then a relatively open competition awaits them, with Barcelona looking fallible and other clubs falling well short of the standards so far set by Bayern Munich. The Bavarians are fast becoming this year’s favourites and look fearsome both in attack and defence. While Hernandez and Danny Welbeck have been compared to Solksjaer and Sheringham at times this season, United will have to rely on far more than hopes of another famous comeback to get past Schweinsteiger and co if they are to meet this year.