A place in the FA Cup final is at stake when Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur meet in the first of this year’s semi-finals at Wembley on Saturday (5.15pm live on BBC1).
It is an encounter between two of the most successful teams in the history of the competition. United stand just one shy of Arsenal’s haul of 13 FA Cups, while Tottenham’s tally of eight puts them third on the all-time list, albeit without a triumph since 1991.
In a season in which all other silverware is now out of reach for the two teams, the FA Cup represents their only opportunity for glory. Trophies are the currency of Man Utd coach Jose Mourinho, while the narrative goes that Tottenham’s evident year-on-year improvement and consistently strong league finishes still require the validation of a trophy.
Champions League qualification was a key aim for both teams ahead of the campaign and both look well on course to achieve it. It would take a significant collapse in the remaining four matches for either of them to be caught and overtaken by Chelsea in fifth. There is, though, still competition between the two teams and Liverpool to determine the order in which they finish second to fourth behind champions Manchester City.
Spurs lost a bit of ground in that race by drawing 1-1 away to Brighton on Tuesday. Harry Kane scored their goal as a partially rotated team struggled to overcome their hosts. That allowed Man Utd to move six points clear of their opponents this weekend with a 2-0 win away to Bournemouth on Wednesday.
Mourinho criticised the inconsistency of his team’s performances following their 0-1 defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion last weekend. It was a result that allowed City to secure the Premier League title with five matches to spare. He was a lot happier with their display on the south coast, as goals from Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku saw them to victory.
Yet while the result did keep Man Utd on course to finish second in the league, a huge improvement on last season’s sixth-place finish, the general atmosphere around the club doesn’t feel particularly positive. Elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Sevilla and the manner in which Manchester City have romped to the title have somewhat overshadowed the gains that have been made.
The mood is brighter in Tottenham. They have overcome the difficulties of basing themselves at Wembley while White Hart Lane is redeveloped to all but certainly secure a third consecutive top-four finish. Their improved Champions League performances bode well for another strong campaign next time around, presuming all of their stars can be retained.
A question mark does, however, somewhat unfairly linger over the work of coach Mauricio Pochettino. His side are yet to win a trophy since his appointment in 2014 and he was also unable to secure silverware in his previous jobs at Espanyol and Southampton. Spurs lost out to Chelsea in last season’s FA Cup semi-final and will this time around hope to reverse a trend that has seen them defeated in each of their last seven semi-final appearances.
They have certainly showed themselves capable of defeating Man Utd at Wembley this season. A slick move straight from kickoff saw Christian Eriksen give them an early lead in their comprehensive 2-0 league victory in late January. An own goal from Phil Jones doubled their lead before the half-hour and they enjoyed near complete control thereafter.
Saturday’s encounter could just as easily go the same way as the match between the sides at Old Trafford last October. There, United stifled Spurs in a very conservative first-half performance before gradually showing more attacking intent as the second half wore on and eventually securing a winning goal through a neat finish from substitute Anthony Martial.
That is more likely to be the pattern that Mourinho would like Saturday’s match to follow, and it will be up to Spurs and Pochettino to prevent that from happening. They are in better form and playing slicker football than United at this moment in time and will therefore be confident of imposing their style upon the match. If they start well, Spurs should be fancied to make it through to their first FA Cup final in over 25 years.
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