Louis Van Gaal is to be replaced by Jose Mourinho in the wake of his FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace according to sources within Sky Sports.
On Saturday, Louis Van Gaal won the FA Cup. On Sunday, he told Sky Sports reporters that, ‘it was over.’
According to a Sky Sports source, victory in the FA Cup final was never going to be sufficient to save Van Gaal’s job. That moment passed when they lost 3-2 against West Ham in Upton Park’s swansong performance; shutting United out of the Champions League.
The FA Cup would provide United with automatic passage into the group stages of the Europa League. That’s not good enough for a team of United’s history and stature.
Back to the game and the build-up was magnificent. There was a nostalgic FA Cup feel to it. Both sets of fans created an atmosphere befitting of the Rome Coliseum in its pomp and circumstance.
And then it went south.
Karen Harding somehow missed her cue to sing the national anthem despite 90,000 fans getting it right. It was contagious. The players came onto the pitch and forgot to play football.
Palace had a simple game plan. Stick 10-men behind the ball, defend for their lives and try and win the game on penalties. How different they are to the team that ripped opponent’s apart with lightning fast breaks on the wings. Alan Pardew slapped manacles on the wizardry of Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie. It’s little wonder they have gone backwards as the season progressed.
With Palace parking the bus, it was left to United to find the handbrake. And that’s been United’s problem all season. They can’t find a way through a defence by passing backwards and sideways. I saw a graph on the BBC Sports website this morning that showed United moved the ball forward for every ball passed back on fewer occasions than any other side in the league.
You can’t blame philosophy.
Michael Carrick has been playing that way since he first laced up a pair of boots. He destroys creativity. As does Marouane Fellaini and Morgan Schneiderlin. At least Bastian Schweinsteiger tries to play through the lines. And even Wayne Rooney – the Man of the Match – fell deeper and deeper searching for the ball that Carrick the conductor kept taking away from him.
Rooney can do a job in midfield. He can be the new Paul Scholes. But he has to be the forward thinking ‘street footballer’ that we know he can be. United don’t need another ‘Carrick clone.’ The club is full of them.
For 77-minutes, it was drab, dreary, and depressing. With the 22 on the pitch incapable of finding the defibrillator paddles, it was left to the sad faces on the bench to weave straw into gold. And when the magic came, it arrived from the team who had hardly past the halfway line.
Jason Puncheon was gutted not to have made the starting lineup. He didn’t take too long to remind his boss that he might have made the wrong call. On as a last gasp substitute, Puncheon looped a corner past the waiting crowd in the box; Joel Ward retrieved it and sent it back from whence it came. Puncheon was waiting; he controlled the ball with his first touch and smashed it into the roof of the net with his second.
It was typical of United’s performances this season. 70-80% possession and then they are a goal down. So many games have petered out in this way. Fortunately, for the United fans, this one was different. Three minutes later and Rooney drove deep into the box, chipped the ball to the far post; Fellaini chested it down, and Juan Mata volleyed the ball through Ward’s legs to creep into the back of the net.
At last, we had a cup final.
United controlled the extra 30-minutes in the same way they had managed the 90 that passed before. Chris Smalling did his best to try and change that by becoming the fourth man to be sent off in an FA Cup Final after a quite ridiculous and amateurish rugby tackle on Yannick Bolasie, but United had one moment of magic left in them.
With United losing their last four penalty shoot-outs, and Palace their last three – neither team must have been licking their lips over that potential outcome. Then with 10-minutes of time remaining, Antonio Valencia made a rare sprint into the Palace area. The ball bobbled off a Palace defender and Jesse Lingard smashed home the winner with a goal worthy of winning any competition.
It was a sweet moment for Lingard. Overlooked for the Euro 2016 squad and a starting berth in the FA Cup Final. A stark contrast compared to his colleagues Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. It was a reminder of the important role he has played in moving the ball forward when so many want to go back.
In the end, it was the right result. Both sides were negative. Both were weak. Both were poor. But United did try to win it. Palace set out to get lucky from the beginning, and it nearly worked.
26-years ago a certain Sir Alex Ferguson won the FA Cup when his United side defeated Crystal Palace at Wembley. It was his first trophy in English football. By all accounts if he hadn’t won he would have been sacked. You don’t need me to tell you what happened next in that grand tale.
And Van Gaal?
He lost his job way before this game even kicked off.
Win or lose he was out.
He knew it.
We knew it.
And according to Sky Sports, Jose Mourinho knew it.