De Bruyne v Casemiro and Haaland v Varane – The key FA Cup final battles
Manchester City take on arch-rivals Manchester United in the FA Cup final on Saturday.
Here, the PA news agency looks at some key battles ahead of the Wembley encounter.
Pep Guardiola v Erik ten Hag
City manager Guardiola has again underlined his status as the best coach of his generation by guiding his side to a fifth Premier League title in six years and bringing them within two wins of a glorious treble. Ten Hag, who worked alongside the Catalan at Bayern Munich for a spell, cannot match Guardiola’s success but his record at Ajax was impressive and his first season with United has been encouraging, with one trophy and Champions League qualification secured. They have both beaten each other once this season.
Ruben Dias v Marcus Rashford
Portugal defender Dias has been back to his best for City during the run-in. After a spell out around the turn of the year, he has recovered form and fitness to provide a rock-solid barrier at the heart of the defence. He will come up against United’s player of the year Rashford, who has bagged 30 goals in all competitions. The forward’s scoring rate may have slowed after a prolific spell in the winter, but after overcoming a recent illness, he will be United’s main threat.
Rodri v Bruno Fernandes
Rodri has enjoyed his best season for City and is now widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world. The Spaniard not only provides a defensive shield, but is a driving force who regularly initiates and supports attacks. Fernandes is an important cog in the United midfield. He finds space well, makes dangerous runs and passes incisively. He is both a creator and goalscorer, and has shown of late he can be as effective on the right as centrally.
Kevin De Bruyne v Casemiro
It is remarkable that De Bruyne was criticised by Guardiola just a few months ago. The Belgian playmaker had been performing well enough but the City boss clearly felt he had another level. So it has proved, with the 31-year-old outstanding in City’s charge to the title and two finals. His partnership with Haaland has been especially potent and Casemiro will aim to keep a close watch. The experienced Brazilian has made a big impact at Old Trafford this season, providing a steeliness and maturity they previously lacked.
Erling Haaland v Raphael Varane
Haaland’s first season at City has been absolutely sensational with 52 goals scored in all competitions and nine assists for good measure. His size, pace and strength make him difficult to contain and, after scoring so many goals this term, he will now want to add some signature trophy-winning ones. Varane will provide a good challenge. The Frenchman reads the game well, is strong on the ball and is quick himself.