Manchester United beat Brighton on penalties to reach a record 21st FA Cup final and set up a Manchester clash against Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions.
It took 14 penalties to separate the teams after regulation time and extra time ended scoreless, with Victor Lindelof scoring the game-winning kick after Solly March missed for Roberto De Zerbi’s side.
Erik ten Hag’s side will return to Wembley to face City in the final on June 3.
Carl Anka, Andy Naylor and Thom Harris analyze the main talking points…
Rashford and Sancho put an end to the ghosts of the Euro
Anka: All penalty shootouts come with risk, but this one comes with the added story of Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford wanting to banish memories of Euro 2020.
On July 11, 2021, in the final, Rashford fired his England penalty away from the post, while Sancho had his effort saved by Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Today Brighton were kicking their own fans in the shootout – the opposite of this final – and left first.
Sancho was United’s third penalty taker and used similar momentum in their attempt against Italy. This time it was good. Upper bins.
Rashford was United’s fourth taker and also found the target.
Both penalties were emphatic. The failure in March was decisive and Lindelof sealed United’s victory, but there was small relief that two players who had been through so much in the wake of that Euro final were able to exorcise a footballing ghost.
Brighton must forget this result and focus on Europe
naylor: Brighton have no time to dwell on the bitter penalty shootout defeat after missing an obstacle in the FA Cup final for the second time in four years.
They travel to Nottingham Forest on Wednesday to reignite their quest for a place in Europe for the first time via a league finish.
De Zerbi’s side, currently eighth in the table, have nine games to play in 33 days. It’s a busy schedule, both in quantity and quality. The remaining tests include matches against the top four before finishing the season at Aston Villa (currently sixth).
The wounds are piling up. De Zerbi is already without Adam Lallana, Tariq Lamptey and Jeremy Sarmiento, and Danny Welbeck is gone in the 75e minute at Wembley when he hit Lindelof’s blocking leg. Brighton head coach hopes the former Manchester United, Arsenal and England striker recovers quickly. The Italian’s other false 9, Evan Ferguson, missed the game with an ankle injury sustained in the 2-1 win at Chelsea.
How De Gea went straight with his kicks
Harris: David de Gea’s distribution has come under more scrutiny than ever in recent weeks, and a hard-pressed Sevilla side found constant joy in squeezing the goalkeeper through as they knocked United out of the Europa League.
Even after selling Harry Maguire short for the opener, De Gea persisted in trying to build from the back against Sevilla, with 20 of his 24 passing attempts finding team-mates in his own defensive third.
At Wembley, it didn’t take long to see that the Spanish international had learned the lesson. After completing six passes over 30 yards on Thursday night, it took De Gea just 18 minutes to top that tally against Brighton.
In total, 31 of his 49 passes crossed the halfway line – his best in any United game in the past five seasons. While his passing accuracy has dropped significantly from 80% to 41%, the spotlight on his short game has certainly been diverted.
Brighton could have been dangerous for De Gea. Since De Zerbi took charge of Amex, they have limited their opponents to, on average, the second fewest passes before a Brighton player engages in defensive action (PPDA) in the Premier League, and have won the ball about five times per game. in the attacking third.
With the opposition in mind, De Gea letting his shot save do the talking – making three sensational saves to deny Julio Enciso and March twice – probably wasn’t the worst idea.
Wan-Bissaka handled the Mitoma threat well
naylor: Kaoru Mitoma was a revelation for Brighton in his first season in the Premier League. The Japanese winger puts you on the edge of your seat with his direct, incisive running and dribbling.
He entered the semi-finals with a remarkable 10 goals and seven assists in 31 appearances, and United were all set to keep him at bay in the first half.
He won a free-kick in a dangerous position just outside the box early on when Antony, trying to help his defence, knocked him down. This led to Alexis Mac Allister forcing De Gea into a decent save, fending off the Argentine’s strike as he headed for the top corner.
Later in the half, Aaron Wan-Bissaka had to make a sliding tackle just outside the penalty area, from which Enciso shot narrowly. Wan-Bissaka kept tight control over Mitoma until the right-back was substituted in extra time – and that didn’t go unnoticed by Leicester City midfielder James Maddison.
Mitoma’s threat had faded – he took a booking late in regulation time after running past the ball – until late in extra time when he swept through a crowded penalty area and nearly netted a shot at close range.
It will be interesting to see how the fast striker fares next season when he’s no longer such a surprise.
Disjointed battle in midfield as both teams needed incisive strikers
Anka: Ten Hag was very fond of his midfield trio of Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes. The group had 15 wins and two draws in their games started together, and faced a well-oiled Brighton collective of Mac Allister, Moises Caicedo – two players who have been linked with moves to United – and Enciso.
It was a midfield battle that was largely undone in the first half. In recent weeks, United have played without the required bite and counter-pressure that Ten Hag has demanded of his team. Eriksen was never an aggressive tackler and Casemiro looked weakened after missing several games through suspension. Fernandes gave United some energy, joining Anthony Martial in pressing up front, but there was little incision.
Still, Brighton couldn’t capitalize and play through United’s soft underbelly. Enciso, 19, has the makings of a future superstar but looked impressed trying to pull the offensive strings as a No.10. Welbeck’s slower runs made it more difficult for Mac Allister and Caicedo to find it from the depths.
Both Brighton and United have smart midfielders but sub-optimal forwards – and so he arrived on time before either manager blinked: Ten Hag replaced Eriksen with the more combative Fred and increased the counter pressure.
De Zerbi shuffled his game five minutes later, taking off Enciso for Joel Veltman, but the second half and extra time continued to be a scrappy affair as neither team landed a knockout. Marcel Sabitzer helped United win the ball further and put pressure on Brighton’s defense but penalties were needed to separate the teams.
Shaw impresses in his makeshift centre-back pairing
Anka: Ten Hag has earned a reputation among United fans for finding inventive solutions to difficult tactical problems. For this game, he had to find a way to replace his best centre-back pairing (as well as a suspended Harry Maguire) and make United smell like roses.
The solution was to have Luke Shaw moonlight at left centre-back, while Lindelof remained at right centre-back.
The makeshift partnership worked. Kind of.
As my colleague Mark Critchley explains here, United have lost more than the aggressive defensive qualities of Martinez. The Argentine is one of the best centre-backs in the world when it comes to progressive passing. Shaw is a remarkable full-back who progresses on the ball, but his experience at Wembley led him to focus more on good positioning and bailing out Diogo Dalot (who was a little shaky playing at left-back).
Next to him was Lindelof, a defender with known flaws – he’s not the fastest and he can be intimidated by physical attackers – but someone with a good eye for managing space and timing his moves. tackles.
Ten Hag spoke about the need for good orientation and crossing angles with his centre-backs. The Shaw-Lindelof partnership didn’t get the massive amounts of balls – a ripple effect of De Gea often landing long kicks, as Thom pointed out above – but they got the job done.
Versatile Gross fills right rear
naylor: Pascal Gross has shown what a reliable player he is for Brighton as a third-choice right-back.
A hamstring injury that forced Veltman out in the first half of the 2-1 win at Chelsea limited the Dutchman to a place on the bench here. Lamptey, the natural alternative to Veltman, is out with a knee injury so Gross was asked to step up from midfield as a substitute again.
He‘is not an unfamiliar role for the versatile German. He lacks pace but more than makes up for that with his intelligence and positional sense. In fact, it was Gross who caused United problems, finding space when he ventured forward to become a right-winger.
He had to be disciplined as March in front of him suffered an ankle injury when his studs caught on the turf in the first half, dulling the winger.‘efficiency.
Gross returned to midfield in the second half in a reshuffle after Veltman replaced Enciso – and United began to have more joy in that side thanks to Rashford, particularly in added time.
(Photo: Michael Regan – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)