The focus may be on what the Saturday’s FA Cup final against Crystal Palace could mean for his future, but Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal was keen to shift the spotlight onto the significance it could hold for the club and his players. Having failed to get Manchester United into the Champions League, speculation continues to be rife about whether Van Gaal will see out the final year of his three-year contract. The result on Saturday could even play a part in the decision of the United board.
Yet the match will also provide a chance for Manchester United to win the first trophy of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era and the first FA Cup since 2004.
“The interests of the club are much more important and also the interests of the fans is much more important than the manager,” Van Gaal said in his pre-match press conference. “Of course, you set your own aims, and that is one of the aims I have always had. It is always exciting when you are so close but close is not enough, you have to win it.
“I have read that the last FA Cup is 2004 so it’s a long time ago. For Manchester United, it’s a big title I think, especially now because it is a long time ago. When you win silverware it is always important. It is important for the players because qualification [for the Champions League] is not a title, a title is the FA Cup, is the championship and for players that’s very important because they can look and they can hold the cup.”
Van Gaal has received a triple fitness boost ahead of the final. Full-backs Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo will be available again after injury, while Morgan Schneiderlin has recovered from illness. All three missed Manchester United’s rearranged final game of the Premier League season, a 3-1 win over Bournemouth on Tuesday.
While the motivation is high for Manchester United to salvage a trophy from a disappointing season, there is plenty of incentive for Crystal Palace. Most obviously, it will be a chance for the London side to claim their first ever major trophy, 26 years after they reached their only other major final. The opponents that day were the same club Palace will once again face off with on Saturday.
It was a thrilling contest in 1990, with the match ending 3-0 after extra time before Manchester United triumphed 1-0 in a replay five days later. Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew played in both of those matches, and, having scored the winner in the semifinal against Liverpool, has a special connection with that run. However, speaking on Friday, he was eager to focus on the 2016 final.
"It’s a nice, special feeling for me, but I’ve tried to distance ourselves from 1990 a little bit," he said. "Because it's nothing to do with this era, this type of football we’re playing, this team, there’s no revenge, there’s no putting it right. This is about this team getting to a cup final and winning, hopefully and that’s what we’re going to try and do. We're not going to drown ourselves in 1990."
Pardew is expected to have Wilfried Zaha back available. The winger has recovered from a hamstring injury and is now primed to face his former club. Joe Ledley and Marouane Chamakh are the only two absentees.
D: Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souaré
M: Cabaye, Jedinak
Zaha, Puncheon, Bolasie
G: De Gea
D: Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo
Lingard, Fellaini, Rooney, Martial
Kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: FOX