Manchester United Season Review Part Three: Emirates FA Cup 2016/17

Manchester United went into the Emirates FA Cup in the 2016/17 season as the holders, entering in the third round in January with the rest of the Premier League clubs. Through winning the FA Cup against Crystal Palace at Wembley at the end of last season, United were pitted against then Premier League champions Leicester City to contend for the FA Community Shield at Wembley at the start of the season with Jesse Lingard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring the goals to secure United their first silverware of the season, which is not one of the major honours they had been aiming for, but it was a start. Many saw United as a possible contender to retain the trophy like Arsenal did a few years ago. Jose Mourinho maybe would have wanted that, but at the important part of the season, the club and the manager needed to prioritise for other things which were deemed more important – aiming to secure UEFA Champions League football next season, which United did by lifting the UEFA Europa League trophy in Stockholm on Wednesday 24th May 2017. Here is a review of United in the FA Cup this season.

Third Round – Manchester United 4-0 Reading – Saturday 7th January 2017

Former United defender and treble winner Jaap Stam returned to Old Trafford as manager of Championship club Reading, who would be looking for promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season, achieving a play-off final place and having to take on Huddersfield Town in the final at Wembley on Monday 29th May 2017. Stam’s side were out of their depth at the Theatre of Dreams with Wayne Rooney opening the scoring in the seventh minute of the match, his 249th goal for Manchester United, and Anthony Martial doubling down inside the 15th minute of the match. United, through Marcus Rashford, did not stop there though with the 19-year-old scoring a late brace, capitalising from an Ali Al-Habsi error for one of his goals. It was only Reading, but this was the best match United had played at this point in the season, despite them being on an unbeaten run at that point of the season. United earned a place in the draw for the next round, where they would face Championship strugglers Wigan Athletic.

Fourth Round – Manchester United 4-0 Wigan Athletic – Sunday 29th January 2017

Wigan Athletic, managed by former United U23 coach Warren Joyce had to visit Old Trafford in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup. It would not be a memorable return to the Theatre of Dreams for Joyce with him lasting around six more weeks at the club before a mutual agreement was struck for him to leave the former Championship club. It took United 44 minutes to open the scoring with a trademark header from Marouane Fellaini. United went into the break 1-0 up with more to do to stop this Wigan side from getting back on terms and maybe causing a shock, no matter how unrealistic that actually was, anything could happen in football. It didn’t, though. United doubled their lead through Chris Smalling in the 57th minute of the match, another headed goal. United went 3-0 up through Henrikh Mkhitaryan with a simple tap-in, but enough to stretch United’s lead with the home side running riot. Axel Tuanzebe and Joel Pereira made their debuts in this match, coming on in the 67th and 80th minute respectively. Bastian Schweinsteiger scored a brilliant goal nine minutes from time with an acrobatic finish in his first start for the club in a year, his penultimate of four appearances this season, before being released to sign for MLS side Chicago Fire. United were in the fifth round of the FA Cup, drawn away against Blackburn Rovers.

Fifth Round – Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Manchester United – Sunday 19th February 2017

This match was a different story for Manchester United. Playing at Ewood Park was a good memory for United as they had some excellent away days there before the side were relegated from the Premier League, this one was not all that different, but the home side took the lead in the 17th minute through a Danny Graham strike, which silenced the United supporters as it was the first goal United had conceded in over 450 minutes of football. The lead lasted ten minutes before Marcus Rashford scored his third goal in the competition this season, capitalising on a Henrikh Mkhitaryan skill where the Armenian beat Danny Guthrie in midfield before putting a precise pass to Rashford, who maturely rounded the keeper to slot one home and equalise. United were back in the match. Still 1-1 in the 69th minute, Jose Mourinho opted to take Anthony Martial off, replacing him with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who immediately threatened the home side, firing the winner for United six minutes after coming on, assisted by Paul Pogba with an inch-perfect pass, chesting the ball down and finding the far corner to score his 24th goal of the season. United had done enough to make the quarter-final of the FA Cup, where they would face Premier League leaders Chelsea, a team which beat United 4-0 back in October 2016.

Quarter-Final – Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United – Monday 13th March 2017

This was the second time both teams had met this season with Chelsea beating United 4-0 at Stamford Bridge, meaning United had gone twelve matches without beating the London club, which Jose Mourinho desperately wanted. United started well in the match, challenging the home side yet again and matching their abilities on and off the ball. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was suspended for the visit to London, which left United weakened and the formation showed that with United playing five at the back, well three with wing-backs. Ander Herrera was sent off, his second booking in the 35th minute of the match, which was a harsh sending off and showed the play acting of Eden Hazard, who had been diving at times throughout the season, getting the benefit of the doubt most of the time. This is what set United up for a fall, which resulted in their exit from the competition at the quarter-final stage. N’Golo Kante a Premier League champion who signed for Chelsea from Leicester City in the summer scored the only goal of the match in the 51st minute. It was an improvement for United though, who conceded four the last time the two teams met. The exit was a blow at the time, but towards the end of the season, when results mattered, even more, United have a fixture pile-up, which would have been even worse with another, or even two FA Cup matches. Mourinho praised the defeat for those reasons, which could have upended United when it mattered all the more.

The season was a successful one for United, despite not being able to retain the FA Cup. Already having won the FA Community Shield, which is not a major honour and the EFL Cup after beating Southampton at Wembley, United had already qualified for the UEFA Europa League next season, but that was not what they wanted. Finishing sixth in the Premier League, for the first time, United had one last chance to earn a UEFA Champions League place, by winning the UEFA Europa League, which they did, beating Ajax 2-0 at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, earning a group stage berth in the Champions League next season. Liverpool, who finished fourth, will have to qualify for the group stages, whilst Arsenal, who finished fifth, for the first time ever in the Premier League, will contend with Thursday night football in the Europa League, which is fitting after their fans mocked United all season. Arsenal does, however, have an FA Cup final to play this weekend, against Chelsea which I am sure will see the London club doing the Premier League and FA Cup double.

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