The Numbers Game: Man City set on double repeat with Ten Hag on the brink

By Sports Desk May 24, 2024

The Premier League season is over, Euro 2024 is approaching, and now it is time for the FA Cup final to round off the English domestic season.

Manchester City and Manchester United, as they did last season, will face off at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

City won 2-1 in June 2023, with Ilkay Gundogan's stunning volley after just 12 seconds setting the tone for a dominant performance from Pep Guardiola's side, who were en route to winning a treble.

There's no treble on the cards for City this season, though after clinching an unprecedented fourth straight Premier League title, another double is in their reach.

"We play FA Cup [and] we can do back-to-back doubles, we have [a] chance to do this," Guardiola said on Friday. "The FA Cup for itself is FA Cup, Wembley, all our fans going to London. It's the last game of season, last effort. 

"I'm impressed how well we have trained after a few days off, so focused, everyone wants to be involved, we will do our best for sure."  

United boss Erik ten Hag, meanwhile, looks set to take charge of his final game at the club, with the Red Devils reportedly having made the decision to sack him regardless of Saturday's result.

Using Opta data, here's all you need to know...

What's expected?

Unsurprisingly, Opta's model makes Man City the favourites, with a 68 per cent win likelihood. United's chances are rated at just 14.4 per cent, with a 17.7 per cent chance it finishes level after 120 minutes, meaning penalties would be needed.

City are unbeaten in their last 35 matches in all competitions (W29 D6) – it’s the second-longest run by a top-flight club in English football history, after Nottingham Forest’s run of 40 in 1978.

There has been a gulf between the rivals this season. City won both of their league meetings against United by an aggregate of 6-1. The last time they beat their neighbours three times in the same campaign was in 1969-70.

City fare well in some significant data points. They have the biggest positive difference (+83) between total shots (127) and shots faced (44) in the Premier League this season, and the biggest positive difference (+9.6) between their expected goals (xG) of 14.8 and expected goals against (xGA) of 5.2.

With City topping the Premier League and United way down in eighth, 31 points separated the rivals.

City scored the most goals in the Premier League, with 96, 29 more than United (57), whose xG was also 57.

United's defensive issues have been well-documented. Their xGA stood at a whopping 70 across their 38 league matches, with only the three relegated sides and West Ham having a worse figure, while only Sheffield United (678) allowed more shots than the Red Devils (667).

Ten Hag on the brink

United are looking to win the FA Cup for the 13th time, something only Arsenal (14) have ever done more. However, the Red Devils have failed to win the trophy in four of their last five final appearances, with the exception coming in 2016 against Crystal Palace under Louis van Gaal (2-1).

There have been six previous occasions of a side finishing 8th or lower facing that season’s champions in the showpiece – Aston Villa (10th) beat Manchester United 2-1 in 1957, but since then such sides have lost all five finals by an aggregate score of 15-0.

United have won five of their last seven FA Cup games against City. However, both defeats in that run have come in games at Wembley (2011 semi-final, 2023 final).

The Red Devils have lost six of their last seven meetings with City in all competitions (W1), including each of the last three in a row. They last lost four consecutively against them between 2013 and 2014.

United have lost 19 games and conceded 84 goals in all competitions this season. They last lost 20 in a campaign in 1973-74 (22) and last conceded more than 84 in 1963-64 (89).

This is only the second time in FA Cup history the same fixture has been played in the final in consecutive years, after Blackburn Rovers v Queen's Park Rangers in 1884 and 1885, and the sensible money would be on City repeating their victory from last year.

Serial winners

Much has been said of City's dominance in the Premier League, but Guardiola's team just have to be lauded for their incredible hunger to keep winning.

City could complete the league title and FA Cup double for the third time, something only previously achieved by Manchester United (1993-94, 1995-96 and 1998-99) and Arsenal (1970-71, 1997-98 and 2001-02). The Citizens did so in 2018-19 and 2022-23 and thus could become the first team to do so in consecutive campaigns.

They are aiming to win the FA Cup for the eighth time and for the first time ever in consecutive years.

Guardiola's side have won each of their last 11 matches in the FA Cup; excluding byes and void games, there have only been two longer winning runs in the competition’s history – Blackburn Rovers (20 between 1883 and 1886) and Chelsea (13 between 2009 and 2011).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Man City: Erling Haaland

Phil Foden is the Premier League Player of the Year, while he has been involved in 10 goals in his last nine appearances in all competitions, scoring nine and assisting one. He has also netted six goals in his last five games against United, while only against Brighton (eight) has he scored more career goals than his six against the Red Devils.

Yet it is Haaland who United's ramshackle defence will be most fearful of.

Haaland is the top-scoring Premier League player in all competitions this season with 38 goals. He netted 52 times last season and could become the first Premier League player to score 40+ in consecutive campaigns.

He has also been involved in nine goals in five appearances against United in all competitions (six goals, three assists), more than he has against any other side as a City player.

Man Utd: Bruno Fernandes 

Fernandes scored from the penalty spot for United in last season's FA Cup final.

He could become the fifth United player to score in the showpiece in two different years, after Bryan Robson (1983 and 1990), Norman Whiteside (1983 and 1985), Mark Hughes (1990 and 1994) and Eric Cantona (1994 and 1996).

Marcus Rashford, having been left out of the England squad for Euro 2024, will be looking to offer a reminder of his qualities, too.

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