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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 2 April, 2020

Will victory be enough to save Van Gaal and more FA Cup final talking points

Plus, can Crystal Palace stop Wayne Rooney from dictating the play?

Van Gaal's future at United has been a source of constant speculation this season.
Van Gaal's future at United has been a source of constant speculation this season.

1. Can Palace stop Rooney from dictating play?

AS HE SHOWED against Bournemouth on Tuesday night, Wayne Rooney can be as influential in midfield as he is up front if given the time and space to play.

The England international also impressed in the first half of the FA Cup semi-final against Everton though faded like many of his teammates as the Toffees began to dominate after the break.

With Marcus Rashford continuing to impress and United linked with Romelu Lukaku among other high-profile strikers of late, it seems Rooney’s stint in midfield could be long-term.

The 30-year-old’s lack of pace means others have been preferred up top in recent times, but Rooney’s guile and ability to dictate play ensures he is still very useful in a deeper role these days.

Consequently, a big performance is needed from the likes of James McArthur and Yohan Cabaye to restrict their opponents’ main creative threat in the middle of the park in English football’s climactic encounter.

2. Will fit-again Zaha return to haunt former club?

Wilfried Zaha is one player in particular who will be desperate to make an impact on Saturday evening.

The 23-year-old, who joined the Crystal Palace academy at the age of 12, had a brief ill-fated spell at Man United, signing for a reported £10 million potentially rising to £15 million in 2013.

However, after just two Premier League appearances — both off the bench — for Man United, he rejoined his boyhood club following a successful loan spell on 2 February 2015 for a fee understood to be in the region of £3 million, potentially rising to £6 million.

Since moving back to London, Zaha has started to fulfill the potential that convinced the Red Devils to buy him in the first place, making 42 appearances in total this season and claiming Palace’s player of the year accolade earlier this month.

Should he take this encouraging recent form into Saturday’s game, Man United may well come to rue parting ways with the talented winger.

With Van Gaal’s men expected to dominate possession, Zaha’s speed on the counter-attack is likely to be crucial in providing the underdogs with a goal threat as well as an outlet from the heavy pressure United are expected to exert.

3. Damien Delaney hoping to be rewarded for years of toil

Newcastle United v Crystal Palace - Barclays Premier League - St James' Park Delaney has made 39 appearances in all competitions for Palace this season. Source: Richard Sellers

As he alluded to in a recent interview, Cork-born defender Damien Delaney has taken the hard route to get to this stage.

Over the course of his career, he has played in all four leagues in England, finally getting regular Premier League football in the 2013-14 campaign, after several years spent toiling away in relative obscurity, going on loan to clubs like Mansfield Town and Stockport County at various points.

The 34-year-old has publicly admitted he seriously contemplated quitting the game at one point, yet he has been rewarded for his perseverance in recent seasons, and an FA Cup triumph would be the icing on the cake for the former Cork City player, who was released by Ipswich just four years ago and only joined Palace on a short-term deal initially.

Moreover, for the past two-to-three seasons, Delaney has been arguably the best-performing Irish centre-back in England, and while he is expected to miss the Euros having seemingly retired from international football, leaving Wembley with a winners’ medal tomorrow would leave him as happy as any Irishman this summer.

4. Will cup triumph be enough to save Van Gaal’s job?

A Man United victory on Saturday would bring a positive end to a largely disappointing season for the club.

For a team of the Red Devils’ stature, failing to qualify for the Champions League in two of the last three years is unacceptable — a failing compounded by the feeling that it’s been one of the most open seasons in Premier League history, with Leicester — a club whose resources pale in comparison to United’s — ultimately triumphing.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the nature of modern football, there remains a degree of ambiguity about Van Gaal’s future.

An FA Cup win would certainly help the veteran manager’s case — only two players likely to take to the field tomorrow have won the trophy before: Juan Mata (with Chelsea) and James McArthur (with Wigan).

Yet having failed in his ultimate objective to deliver a top-four spot, tomorrow’s result may well still prove irrelevant in determining whether the 64-year-old Dutch coach stays or goes.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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