KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY —- Louis Van Gaal has won a trophy with every club who feature in his high-class managerial cv, with the exception of Manchester United. Success at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alkmaar and FC Bayern has yet to be replicated during his near two-year presence in English football.
But that may all be put to rights on May 21 when Manchester United confront Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Final. United are favourites despite the manner in which they flirted briefly with disaster on Saturday before beating Everton 2-1 thanks to a stoppage-time goal from the outstanding Anthony Martial.
The final might also be Van Gaal’s last match in charge. He is contracted for a further season but United’s (comparatively) disappointed league results and performances mean they are uncertain of Champions League football next season.
Van Gaal does not feature in United’s promotional material for their pre-season adventures and even he is making no predictions.
United dominated the first half with captain Wayne Rooney outstanding in midfield and should have had more reward than a single goal from yet another Everton ‘old boy’ in Marouane Fellaini.
Everton raised the tempo after the interval and, despite seeing a Romelu Lukaku penalty saved brilliantly David De Gea, equalised deservedly through a Chris Smalling own goal.
Just when extra time appeared inevitable, Martial arrowed through a gap between England centre-backs John Stones and Phil Jagielka to send United into their record-equalling 19th FA Cup Final and first at the ‘new’ Wembley. His goal also almost certainly condemned Everton manager Roberto Martinez to the sack.
Van Gaal, after the match, was not considering anything beyond the end of this season. Asked about United’s ability to build on their cup performances next season, he told journalists: “I’m not looking at anything other than this competition. We live in the present. For the future, I discuss this with my board not with you.”
He had no doubt about United’s value for victory and the outstanding potential of Martial who could be one of stars of Euro 2016 for France, particularly in the absence of Karim Benzema.
Van Gaal said: “We deserved to go to the final. We had so many chances, we could have finished it much earlier. Martial can do even much better because I see a lot of thing he can improve by playing and training and then you can improve again when you are playing on a higher level.”
Palace beat Watford 2-1 in the second semi-final between two rank outsiders who each had only ever reached the final once before. It was a repeat of the outcome when Palace from south London beat their north of London rivals in the second division promotion play-off three years ago.
All the goals were headers from towering left-wing crosses (two of them corners). Yannick Bolasie put Palace ahead in only the sixth minute with Troy Deeney levellng after 55. Watford were on terms for only five minutes before Connor Wickham restored Palace’s advantage.
Manager Alan Pardew thus repeated his own success as a player. In 1990 he scored the winning goal when Palace won in the semi-finals against Liverpool. Palace went on to lose the final after a replay . . . against Manchester United.
Van Gaal, for certain, will be hoping history repeats itself, albeit – like Saturday’s semi-final – within the regulation 90 minutes.