Man United don’t scare Palace

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Deep down, however, the Crystal Palace manager will know one very simple thing. If his team turn up and play as they can against Manchester United then they will have a very good chance of lifting the first major trophy in their 110-year history.

That is the beauty of today’s game. Often in match-ups like this - one of the country’s bigger clubs facing more modest opposition - you know that if the giant stretches his muscles then he will not be slain.

This one is different. Such are the modern United’s limitations, the opposite is true. It is the underdog that has the opportunity to dictate events at the national stadium. If Pardew can bring a performance of quality - one reminiscent of their early-season form - out of his Palace players then the chance is theirs.

United’s semi-final victory over Everton provided the clues and for sure Pardew will have watched the DVD. He will have seen how United, impressive in the first half, creaked and groaned under second-half pressure, only to survive and ultimately prosper simply because Everton could not put them away.

In Cup finals - more so than in routine games - opportunities must be taken. There tend to be fewer of them because these games are often tight, as anxiety and tension restricts expression.

In Basle on Wednesday, Liverpool probably would have lifted the Europa League trophy had they taken one of a couple of chances that came on the back of Daniel Sturridge’s opening goal. They didn’t and they eventually lost by a couple of lengths.

Palace must make sure that doesn’t happen to them.

‘We had a lunch yesterday and we had a good meeting before the lunch,’ said Pardew on Thursday.

‘I wanted to get a little bit more feedback from the players, of their fears, their hopes, for the game, so I’m actually trying to get a little bit more, kind of, messages from the team, into what I was going to deliver to them beforehand.

‘I have had plenty of (former) Crystal Palace players telling me exactly what I should be saying to my players as well. They all want us to win. It’s a lovely emotion to share with fans. It’s important for them.

‘Our fans want to go to Wembley and win. We want to win, we are not going there for runners-up.

‘The one difference I felt as a player in 1990 was that I thought, “Oh, we might win”. I actually felt that. I didn’t think we could win if I am honest. I only thought we “might”. But if it all goes our way this time, I actually think we can win. And I think this group of players think they can win, too.’

Pardew has his own Cup final history. He was close to leading West Ham to victory over Liverpool in 2006 and was a player in the Palace team who lost a replay to today’s opponents back in 1990.

It is that final that will form the backdrop to this contest. Twenty-six years ago, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was seeking his first trophy after some difficult early years at Old Trafford. Today Louis van Gaal does not know if he will survive even if he wins.

That partly reflects the here-and-now ethos of modern football but more so the dismal nature of Van Gaal’s tenure. The Dutchman has overseen a period of rare sterility after replacing David Moyes and it seems unfeasible that he should be invited to continue after today.

However, one of the enduring joys of the FA Cup is that it continues to matter on the day. Today’s 5.30pm start is shameful. Many United supporters will not get home until the early hours, while those using the rail network will be forced to pay outrageously jacked-up overnight accommodation costs.

Regardless, there has been a feeling of rare excitement in the red half of Manchester this week. United have not won anything since Ferguson bowed out with a Premier League title success three years ago and victory today would be all the sweeter on the back of the failure of their great rivals in Switzerland in midweek.

Van Gaal, as always, is vulnerable to familiar difficulties. His players’ failure to buy into his methods stalks the great veteran every time he sends them out to play. Occasionally, they find a performance of substance. More often they don’t. They do, though, have a habit of finding a way.

At Wembley, United will rely on key figures to get them through. Goalkeeper David de Gea remains their most important player, while Chris Smalling and Daley Blind have become an obdurate, functioning central defensive partnership and it is fair to say that nobody apart from Van Gaal ever saw that coming.

Further forward, the young legs and uncluttered minds of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford will relish the wide Wembley acres. A year ago, had any United fans even heard of them? Had Van Gaal? There is another potential sub-plot right there.

Palace will not be fearful, though, and nor should they be. The south London club began the season excellently and then plummeted like a stone. So it is hard to know what to make of them.

Had it been Manchester City, Arsenal or Tottenham (oops, almost forgot Leicester) facing them today, it would have been hard to fancy Palace. But it is not and therein lies the intrigue.

‘I think the players understand what we are trying to achieve in the game,’ said Pardew. ‘If we get a little bit of luck, I think we can win it.’

Daily Mail

Original source: Man United don't scare Palace

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