All roads from Manchester lead to Wembley Stadium on Saturday for the first ever FA Cup final between the city’s arch-rivals — a fitting climax to the domestic season and a clash loaded with significance for both clubs.
For Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, a first FA Cup triumph since 2019 would put them one game away from repeating Manchester United’s treble of 1999 — to date the only season in which a club won the English title, FA Cup and Champions League.
For United it represents the chance to add the FA Cup to the League Cup they won in February — a domestic cup double they have never achieved before. Having also finished third in the Premier League, would represent an impressive first season at the helm for Dutch coach Erik ten Hag.
Another trophy is motivation enough for United, but stopping City’s march towards a treble that could be sealed a week later in Istanbul against Inter Milan will fuel their hunger.
“We will give everything and, when I say everything, it’s everything… the fans can rely on that,” Ten Hag, who has blossomed after a tough start at Old Trafford, said in the wake of his side’s semi-final win over Brighton and Hove Albion.
City have won a treble before under Guardiola — sweeping all the domestic honours in 2019 when they thrashed Watford 6-0 in the FA Cup final. But repeating United’s 1999 feat would rubber-stamp City as the best football team in the world.
It would also make redundant a favourite anthem of United’s fans, one they gleefully sing to remind City’s faithful that they have never won the historic treble that Alex Ferguson’s side completed 24 years ago.
City’s domination of the English landscape is such that United’s bragging rights are severely diminished these days, although in terms of FA Cup wins there is still a chasm between the clubs with United seeking a 13th and City a seventh.
United have also won five of their last six FA Cup meetings with City but the last of those came in January 2012.
City, driven by the chance of sporting immortality, will start favourites on Saturday in the 142nd edition of the showpiece final, although Guardiola will be wary of a United side they lost to 2-1 in February, avenging a 6-3 mauling at the hands of their neighbours in October.
The fact they ended the Premier League season with a draw and a defeat, having already wrapped up their fifth title in six seasons, will offer United some room for optimism but Guardiola’s side will deserve all the plaudits that flood their way if they win their next two games, according to United’s treble-winning defender Gary Neville.
“Do I want City to win the treble? No! No! No, I don’t. Nobody wants City to win the treble if you’re a Manchester United fan,” Neville said in The Times.
“For me, (Guardiola) would be a worthy companion to Sir Alex and his players would be worthy companions of our Manchester United treble team. Fingers crossed they lose though!”
With tens of thousands of fans descending on the capital and with rail strikes expected, the unique final will pose a logistical challenge, with the Met Police saying on Thursday that 1,000 officers will be on duty.
“Of course this is also a derby match, and we are alive to the added significance — and challenges — this may bring,” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ade Adelekan said.