And then there were two.
Saturday’s FA Cup final at London’s Wembley Stadium pits Premier League giants and bitter enemies Manchester United and Manchester City against each other in what should be an enthralling contest to cap off the 142nd edition of the annual knockout competition.
Here’s what you need to know:
Blues working on a historic ‘treble’
Having already wrapped up the Premier League crown, Manchester City could complete a historic treble when it meets Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League finals on June 10 in Istanbul. But to have even a chance at the treble in Turkey, they must first defeat Manchester United on Saturday at Wembley Stadium.
Should City manage to pull it off, it will join an ultra-exclusive club: Manchester United is the only English team to record a treble, having won the Premier League crown, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League in 1998-99.
If you think matching Man United’s feat doesn’t serve as extra motivation for Man City, think again. Nothing would please the Blues more than to silence Man United fans who routinely sing a song reminding City’s supporters that their team has never won the treble.
If Man City ends up winning on Saturday but falling short in the Champions League final, winning the double would still be a considerable achievement. In 2019, City became the first side to win the FA Cup and the Premier League in the same season since Chelsea did it in 2009-10, and they are only the eighth club to win the double.
Red Devils looking for another trophy
While Manchester City is chasing the treble, the first-ever major final between the two city rivals also carries extra significance for Manchester United.
The Red Devils defeated Newcastle United 2-0 back in February in the EFL Cup final at Wembley Stadium to win their first major trophy since hoisting the UEFA Europa League in 2017. An FA Cup victory on Saturday would be the club’s first in seven years and represent the second piece of hardware for Erik ten Hag in his first full season in charge of Man United.
The Red Devils and their fans will also be trying to break up the bid by manager Pep Guardiola’s side to win the treble, something that former defender Gary Neville and his Man United teammates did under coach Sir Alex Ferguson 24 years ago.
“Do I want City to win the treble? No! No! No, I don’t. Nobody wants City to win the treble if you’re a Manchester United fan,” Neville said in The London Times.
“For me, (Guardiola) would be a worthy companion to Sir Alex and his players would be worthy companions of our Manchester United treble team. Fingers crossed they lose, though!”
The path to the FA Cup final
Manchester City has breezed through the competition since entering at the third round, posting clean-sheet wins over Chelsea (4-0), Arsenal (1-0), Bristol City (3-0), Burnley (6-0) and Sheffield United (3-0).
Likewise, Manchester United has had an easy time of it since its entry in the third round, posting a series of 3-1 victories against Everton, Reading, West Ham United and Fulham. The semifinals proved to be the only major hiccup, as the Red Devils needed a penalty shootout to defeat Brighton & Hove Albion.
Man City vs. Man United in 2022-23
These clubs met twice during the 2022-23 Premier League season, splitting the series with a win apiece.
Manchester United suffered a heavy 6-3 defeat away to Manchester City on Oct. 2. A dominant display from City saw them take a 4-0 lead at halftime courtesy of a pair of goals from Erling Haaland and Phil Foden. Both went on to complete their hat tricks in the second half.
City came out on the losing end in the return match on Jan. 14, suffering a 2-1 loss at Old Trafford. Ten Hag’s side was the better side for close to an hour but found itself in a hole after substitute Jack Grealish scored on a header to give the Blues the lead. Bruno Fernandes equalized and Marcus Rashford netted the winner in the 82nd minute to complete the comeback for United.
Players to watch: Riyad Mahrez and David de Gea
Norwegian striker Haaland has garnered the majority of headlines for Manchester City this season by scoring 52 goals in 51 games in all competitions. But it’s Algerian international Riyad Mahrez who is the Blues’ top scorer in this season’s FA Cup, with five goals in five appearances. His best effort came in the semifinals, when he netted a hat trick to pace Man City to a 3-0 win over Sheffield United.
David de Gea gets a lot of unfair criticism, but the Spanish goalkeeper has been an absolute workhorse for Manchester United this season. He started all 38 Premier League games and all five matches in the team’s run to the FA Cup final, and posted a shutout in the Red Devils’ semifinal win over Brighton & Hove Albion.
FA Cup history: Man United vs. Man City
Manchester United has won five of its last six FA Cup meetings against Manchester City, including a 3-2 road win in their previous encounter in 2012. Man City’s last FA Cup win over Man United came in the 2011 semifinals.
The Blues have a record of six wins and five losses in FA Cup finals, and earned a 6-0 victory over Watford in their last finals appearance in 2019.
The Red Devils are set to appear in their 21st FA Cup final, the joint-most of any team, alongside Arsenal, and have lifted the trophy 12 times.
John Molinaro, one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, has covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer.