Result on Saturday will create strong perception among football fans of success - or failure - at Old Trafford
FA Cup final: For Jose Mourinho and Manchester United, win is all the more important
Manchester United’s FA Cup rivalry with Chelsea is a mostly modern affair. The pair meet at Wembley Stadium in the cup final on Saturday, the third time they have done so since 1994.
Historically, they have clashed 14 times in the competition, with United winning eight of those games and losing only four. Nine of those encounters have come since that 1994 final, which United triumphed 4-0 in.
Chelsea’s record has improved since they benefited from the wealth of Roman Abramovich in 2005. They won the 2007 final 1-0, the first to be played at a redeveloped Wembley, a dull match between two great sides who would meet in the Uefa Champions League final a year later.
Chelsea also knocked United out of the cup in the sixth round at Stamford Bridge last season. That result was little surprise given United’s dreadful recent away form at Chelsea, but Jose Mourinho was furious because his game plan was shredded when Ander Herrera was sent off 10 minutes before half time after a foul on Eden Hazard.
Mourinho was abused by Chelsea fans who had once loved him and he is vengeful this time – and not just because he knows how a cup win will make a big difference to how United’s season is judged.
Win and United will claim with justification that the season has been relatively successful. The team have finished second with 81 points. It will do for now, even if many fans are concerned about the style of football. It will also set up an August Community Shield match against champions Manchester City.
Lose and it will sting, a sad end to a season kept alive by a decent cup run. There has been a flatness around recent United performances, an end of term feel which remains unusual for United fans since their team was long in contention for league titles in April and May.
The FA Cup remains important to United. The competition is not as prestigious as the Champions League or the Premier League, but it has no little value in the eyes of United supporters, many of who remember when it was the only trophy United were capable of winning.
Between 1968 and 1990, United lifted the cup four times. England’s biggest club won no other major trophies in that period.
Whatever the result at a sell-out Wembley where fans will pay prices 30 per cent higher than only two years ago when United last played in the final, Mourinho is expected – and deserves – to be in charge at the start of the next season.
He travelled to London on Wednesday with his team and should go into the game with a full squad. The recently injured leading goalscorer Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini are all expected to be fit.
Mourinho is likely to play the same team – or a very similar team to the one which beat Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final, where United came from behind with goals from Alexis Sanchez and Herrera to win 2-1. That would mean Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in central defence, even though the partnership between Jones and Eric Bailly has been far more effective results wise.
In their six games together, they have kept five clean sheets, picked up 16 from 18 points in a side which has scored 17 goals against two conceded. The semi-final was the first time United has beaten Spurs in London in five attempts.
United, who have won 12 FA Cups and will match Arsenal’s record 13 wins if they triumph, will be hoping for a similar change in fortune against a team which has also found it easy to beat them in England’s capital in recent years.