Football News

Gary Pallister picks out the best Man Utd combo to stop Erling Haaland in FA Cup final vs Man City

By Harry Edwards

Published: 10:28, 24 May 2024

Former Manchester United defender Gary Pallister spoke to Squawka about this weekend’s FA Cup final with Manchester City.

Pallister gave his thoughts on Man Utd’s chances of winning the FA Cup, what that would mean for the future and how their defenders might deal with Erling Haaland.

He also spoke about the current Man City side and where they might rank among the best teams in Premier League history, and the magic of the FA Cup.

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Centurions, treble-winners, first ever to the four-peat. Is this Man City side the greatest in Premier League history? If not, what do they have to do to eclipse Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man United?

When you talk about greatest sides, you talk about a side, there are that many different teams at United, there’s probably been that many different teams at City in a way. You go back to the [Sergio] Aguero days when they first won the league.

At the moment, they’ve got the best manager in the world. The way he pushes and cajoles his teams, I think you can see that, what he demands of his teams. It’s very much what Sir Alex did. It was year in and year out, don’t rest on your laurels, go again, win again, don’t ever get fed up with a habit of winning things. And I think that’s what he brings to the City party.

Whether they’re the best team ever? They’re certainly in with a shout of that title. Obviously as a Red it’s very hard to say that they are because there have been double-double teams at United, they’ve been Treble winners, there have been some wonderful players at United over the years. They’re exciting to watch, they are a winning machine at the moment and I think as long as that man stays at the helm, I think that’s probably going to carry on.

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Do you think this Man Utd side has what it takes to beat Man City in a one-off game like the FA Cup final this weekend?

Yeah, listen we can always win a one-off game. I think we proved that against Liverpool, when everybody was expecting us to go out to Liverpool in the quarter-final. And what we got there was one of the best atmospheres I’ve seen at Old Trafford for many a year. We managed to get over the line, and get ourselves into the semis, where we nearly made an absolute shocker of that situation. But yeah, it’s a difficult task, absolutely difficult.

I don’t think the bookies will be far wrong, I think City are 1/4 or 1/5 or something like that to win the game, and that’s because they’ve proven that they’re the best team in the world. Even though they got knocked out of the Champions League, I think if you look at those two legs, City were by far the better team, but Real Madrid somehow find ways to win.

I think the capabilities are there. The hard part for United in that match will be keeping a clean sheet. We’ve all watched how good City are going forward. Obviously up top in Erling Haaland they’ve got a maestro of a finisher, and he’s going to be difficult to stop. Our Achilles heel all season has been defending. We’ve not had a defensive unit in place for any length of time, injury after injury. [Lisandro] Martinez has been a big miss for most of the season, Luke Shaw’s been out for a large part, and they’re probably your two shoo-ins, probably for both club and country, so they were going to be sorely missed. And I think that’s the reason why we’ve been so poor in conceding so many goals this season.

How do Man Utd’s centre-backs deal with a striker like Erling Haaland on the big stage?

I think you’ve got to be aggressive with him. I think Martinez will do that, I think he’ll relish the fight. I would hope that Harry [Maguire] would be fit, I’m not sure whether he will be. I think he can deal with the aerial prowess of Haaland and so I think that would be a good mix to take him on. But whether Harry will be fit, whether Martinez is fully up to speed, he’s only played 110, 120 minutes of football since his last injury, he’s been missing for the best part of three months.

It’s a difficult ask. Everything seems to be against United going into this game, but they can use that kind of negativity as motivation to prove a lot of people wrong. There’s nobody expecting Man Utd to win. So in that dressing room, if I’m feeling like the underdog maybe you want to rally the troops to just go out there and prove everybody wrong.

A lot of people talk about the FA Cup losing its magic. But how can it transform a team’s spirit to win the FA Cup after a tough league campaign?

Winning is a big fillip for disappointment. There’s only three domestic trophies on offer and if you win one of them, I guess you can say it’s kind of been a successful season. Now, you can look on the flip side of that and say the league tells you everything about where your team is, and right so, we had our worst Premier League finish in its history.

But I hark back to 1990 and us winning the FA Cup under Sir Alex, and using that as a catalyst to move on and win more. Now they won the League Cup last year, an FA Cup’s maybe a step forward. Can we make another step forward after that? Maybe your league position suggests you can. But it does give confidence in the dressing room, it gives players belief that there are trophies to be had. And this is one of the talking points about Manchester United, whether you can attract the players to come to the club because we’re not in the Champions League. If you’re winning things, maybe that helps.

But it’s a difficult one. I think the league position certainly has to improve. But with the FA Cup, I’m a little bit disappointed with the way the FA have treated the competition, especially with the banning of replays. And I think it’s just getting watered down, and watered down. And how long before the FA Cup becomes as much of a trophy as maybe the League Cup?

Do you think Erik ten Hag’s future rests on the result of the FA Cup final?

No, I don’t. We saw that before with [Louis] van Gaal, didn’t we? He won the FA Cup and then I think a day later he lost his job. So I don’t think it’s going to have much bearing. I think whichever way they’re looking at it, I don’t think that’s changed. I’m sure the INEOS people have been looking at a lot of different things, been looking into the club and how it works and have made some decisions behind the scenes. And they’re trying to move the club forward.

So I don’t think winning the FA Cup, or losing the FA Cup, on Saturday will have any bearing. I think they’ll have already decided which way the club’s going to go.

Based on how relatively little is made of the injuries they’d had in defence, do you think Man United players and managers get unfairly treated by the media?

I think it’s been an incredible season for injuries. Every club seems to have suffered their worst-ever injury crisis or it appears to be like that. City have had problems, Liverpool had big problems, Brighton, Arsenal, everybody seems to have a lot of problems. Maybe they’ve been a bit evenly spread across the squad, everything seems to be happening to the United defenders.

[Tyrell] Malacia’s not played all season, and Luke Shaw’s missed large chunks. Martinez, who I think is possibly a captain in the making for Manchester United, has been missing for a large part of the season. When he did come back, he looked quite fit, so he’s been missing for a large part. You don’t want to call them excuses, but there are reasons behind why we’ve not been as good as we were last season.

One thing it does tell us I think is that we haven’t got the strength in depth, and that’s something that maybe the club’s going to be looking at when they look at recruitment to bring in better quality. We’ve lost an awful lot of money on signings over the last 10, 15 years. We’ve been hemorrhaging what seems to be a hell of a lot of money and not really getting the value that we should have done. Everything’s changed behind the scenes regarding recruitment, so we’ll see what they can do during the summer, bringing hungry players in and quality players in to try and redress the balance that has been there from this season.

Gary Pallister was speaking to Squawka on behalf of BetVictor.