Ahead of today’s FA Cup final showdown against José Mourinho and his Manchester United family, I exchanged a few questions and answers with Brent Maximin, the blog manager over at The Busby Babe. They have the reverse version of this, where I talk about Conte, and Conte, and more Conte, and maybe some transfers, too. So be sure to read that as well.
WAGNH: Mourinho has a reputation for being a Cup specialist. But The Special One has shown that he’s not all that special these days, so how much faith can you put into his ethos of winning when it matters the most?
tBB: Recent evidence has shown that he can still get his team and tactics right against domestic rivals. How United went out of the Champions League against Sevilla was infuriating, but in the last couple of months, we’ve been beaten the rest of the big teams in England, including your lot. Now, whether or not he can still communicate his ideas effectively to his team and instill a playing philosophy (I know, I know - that word) that can win United a league title ... well, that remains to be seen. If nothing else, Mourinho is surely the pettiest man in football, and I feel reasonably confident that he will make sure he gets his tactics right against Conte, just out of spite.
WAGNH: Any chance Mourinho will not set out to spoil the game? If both Conte and Mourinho set out to attack, does that mean that a singularity will materialize in the center circle and suck Wembley and the entire world into it?
tBB: Ander Herrera is raking his studs down the back of Eden Hazard’s neck (and then going down dramatically himself) within the first 90 seconds. Alexis Sanchez will be playing as an auxiliary fullback by the hour mark. Marouane Fellaini might start up front. Mourinho went away to WEST HAM and finished the match (0-0!) with 6 defenders on the pitch. Let’s just say I’m expecting this one to be an, erm, “tactical chess match”.
WAGNH: What’s your verdict on the season overall? This was supposed the year that everything clicks for Mourinho, the fabled second season, but is second spot and a possible FA Cup good enough? I know that question sounds incredibly entitled and short-termist, but that’s modern football for ya!
tBB: If we win on Saturday, it’ll be an okay season. Many of the more sensible United supporters would have described second place and an FA Cup win as a reasonable sign of progress given how disjointed the team was last year. Context matters though, and we were a million miles behind City and went out of Europe in disgraceful fashion. All in all, somewhat disappointing, but I’m at least cautiously optimistic about our chances of getting better next year.
WAGNH: Mourinho did a good job of playing down the news, but for me it was still shocking to see Rui Faria (finally) strike out on his own after all those years of being Jose’s right-hand man. What was really going on there for this eternal duo to go their separate ways, and what’s next for Rui himself?
tBB: I have no idea. There were no whispers about it before it was announced, other than Mourinho himself putting Rui Faria in the frame for the Arsenal job. There hasn’t been any indication of a falling out, so it probably is just a case of another Mourinho acolyte feeling ready to be his own man. The good news is that we may have the famous attacking instincts of Aitor Karanka being brought in as replacement!
WAGNH: Was the on-pitch recognition and trophy presentation at Old Trafford for Arsene Wenger, with Mourinho and Ferguson hamming it up, the classiest or trolliest move ever in Premier League history?
tBB: I thought it was a nice touch! Both Fergie and Mourinho share that trait of being quite nice to opposing managers when they’re no longer a threat. Both of them stopped laying into Wenger when he and his Arsenal team stopped being relevant. Wenger should have cracked Mourinho over the head with the damn thing.
WAGNH: Is Anthony Martial leaving and any chance y’all might sell to Chelsea?
tBB: Oh god. There is definitely a decent chance he’s off, sadly. The club don’t want to sell, because he has bags of talent, but they’re also prepared to back the decision of the manager. Martial will feel that he could have been in France’s World Cup squad had he been playing regularly, and will not want to spend another season being the second or third choice left winger playing for a manager who regularly slags him off.
I’d be livid if United sanctioned that sale, even if it was to get Willian the other way. Martial’s talent is special, though he hasn’t always taken his chances under Mourinho. He hasn’t been helped by having a manager who doesn’t place high value on expression on the pitch, or being pushed out of the team by Sanchez’s arrival just as he had hit good form.
WAGNH: How is the nicest person in football, Juan Mata doing these days?
tBB: What a man. He’s fine, and fingers crossed he’s not leaving us anytime soon. I expect he’ll be on the bench tomorrow, ready to come on to pry open your defense and/or dispense hugs, depending on what is necessary.
WAGNH: What’s the latest on Romelu Lukaku’s fitness and will he play tomorrow?
tBB: Mourinho says that he’s waiting until the last minute for Lukaku to prove his fitness. I’ve got no idea how much of that is just mind games. He may start, he may be on the bench, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t make the squad at all. He’s one of only a handful of players who Mourinho actually trusts.
WAGNH: Care to offer a starting lineup and final scored prediction?
De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Young; Matic, Herrera, Pogba; Lingard, Lukaku, Sanchez.
1-0 to the Reds.
Mata-hugs for Brent and may the best blue-shirted team win!