The Malta Independent 23 June 2024, Sunday
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Ten Hag defiant on his future after Man United stuns Man City in the FA Cup final

Associated Press Saturday, 25 May 2024, 20:33 Last update: about 28 days ago

If this was Erik ten Hag's final game in charge of Manchester United, it was a sensational way to go out.

Against the backdrop of intense speculation that he is about to be fired, Ten Hag and United stunned defending champion Manchester City 2-1 to lift the FA Cup at Wembley on Saturday.

Receiving his medal from the future king of England, Prince William, the Dutchman then got his hands on his second trophy in as many seasons to end a troubled campaign on a high.

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Is it enough to save his job?

“I’m not satisfied with it, we have to do better, and if they don’t want me anymore then I go somewhere else to win trophies because that is what I did my whole career,” a defiant Ten Hag said. “We are constructing a team and when I took over it was a mess at Manchester United.”

First-half goals from Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo set up the win. City piled the pressure on after the break and eventually pulled a late goal back through substitute Jeremy Doku.

United's owners were watching on from the executive seats at Wembley and have a decision to make.

“We are all very proud of the players and the staff who work tirelessly to support them,” new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe said.

The British billionaire bought a 27.7% stake in United in February and is overhauling the club. There's widespread anticipation that Ten Hag will become the latest casualty of his revamp regardless of the cup final triumph.

That theory will be put to the test after this win, which deprived crosstown rival City of the first back-to-back English league and cup doubles and also saw United qualify for the Europa League next season.

“My game plan was not good,” City manager Pep Guardiola said.

Ten Hag got his tactics spot on as United soaked up pressure and pounced to take control by the break.

Garnacho opened the scoring in the 30th minute, sparking panic in City’s defense when chasing onto a hopeful punt from Diogo Dalot deep in his half. Josko Gvardiol was quicker to the ball, but his headed back pass went over the onrushing City goalkeeper Stefan Ortega to leave Garnacho with an open net to tap home.

If that goal benefited from luck, United’s second nine minutes later came from a slick attack, with Garnacho at the heart of it again when cutting in from the right wing and playing in Bruno Fernandes.

The United captain hit a first-time no-look pass to Mainoo, who coolly slotted past Ortega.

The final was a repeat of last year’s which City won 2-1, and Pep Guardiola’s team did not give up its trophy without a fight. Doku’s long range shot in the 87th set up a nervy finish.

By that point Erling Haaland had hit the bar, Kyle Walker had forced goalkeeper Andre Onana into two outstretched saves, and substitute Julian Alvarez missed the target from close range with only the keeper to beat.

It is United’s 13th FA Cup, one behind Arsenal’s record of 14. And it is Ten Hag’s second trophy after winning the League Cup last year.

Players and staff embraced him on the field after the final whistle and fans cheered rapturously as he went to collect the trophy in front of the co-owners, Americans Joel and Avram Glazer and Ratcliffe.

Victory, however, came after United's worst league season in 34 years.

“It’s been a tough season with ups and downs. This is the only thing we’ve had to look forward to,” Mainoo said. “We knew we had to come together. The preparation for this game has been amazing. We’ve shown we can compete and win games.”

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