How you judge United’s 2017-18 season will depend on whether you are a glass half empty or half full type of person. On the one hand, Guardiola has won the league almost at a canter, playing decent football along the way. On the other hand, and leaving that to one side, there has been definite progress on the pitch and especially in the league table where United is concerned. Where that progress leads to is a debate for another day, but if on May 19th, Mourinho secures the club’s 13th FA Cup, it will be hard not to chalk the season up as a relatively successful one.
The cup final then becomes more critical than usual, both for the club and the manager. The same can be said for our opponents. This is the third time the two teams have faced off in the final of the oldest cup competition in the world. Currently, the honors are even, but as you would expect, United is the favorites to go 2-1 up against Chelsea. As we build up to the game, we look back at the previous two finals against The Blues as well as the seasons that proceeded and succeeded them to see if we can draw any parallels before the third chapter.
The 1993-94 season will live long in the memory of all United fans. After comfortably seeing off nearest rivals Blackburn for the Premiership title, the FA Cup would give Fergie’s team the hallowed double. Close away games at Bramall Lane and Carrow Road saw The Reds progress to the fifth round before they started to stretch their legs, putting three past Wimbledon and Charlton before coming up against Oldham in a repeat of the famous 1990 semifinal. Once again, it took a replay, but once again, United saw the tie out and won their place in the final to take on a Chelsea side who had, under the stewardship of new boss Glenn Hoddle, came in a disappointing 14th in the league.
It took an hour for the final to catch fire, but when it did, there was only one ribbon that was going to be tied to the famous trophy. A Cantona brace followed by goals from Hughes and McClair saw Ferguson claim his second FA Cup. That year was the starting point of an unparalleled domination of the domestic scene by United, seeing them pick up three more FA Cups and six league titles in the following ten years.
The scene was set for a repeat in the 2007 final, being played for the first time at the new Wembley. Once again, United had won the title and would be looking for a double against the men from Stamford Bridge. This time, however, Chelsea, now under the charge of Mourinho, was undoubtedly the second-best team in the land and would prove a sterner test. Despite winning the league by six points (a full 21 points ahead of third-placed Liverpool) United made hard work of getting to the semifinals. The 2-1 wins at home to Villa and Portsmouth, then tight replay victories against Reading and Middlesbrough, however, were enough to see them into the semi where a 4-1 win over Watford at Villa Park gave them the opportunity to repeat their feat from 13 years earlier.
It wasn’t to be the case, unfortunately. A poor game saw the two teams go into extra time with the score still goalless before Drogba scored the game’s only goal with just a few minutes remaining on the clock. Though that would be the last time they would get their name on the cup until 2015-16, United would win four of the next six league titles.
Winning the FA Cup — especially this season where all the top teams took it seriously — would be a big statement and a sign that despite murmurings in the media, things are looking good in the red half of Manchester. Whatever happens at Wembley, this summer’s transfer window will be crucial, as will José’s ability to get the most out of the young talent he has at his disposal. Watch this space.