OPINION: Manchester is blue but Manchester United show they can replace Liverpool as Pep Guardiola’s ‘pain in the a***’

“We might have won this game on a different day.”

If you had a penny for each time you heard a manager of a losing team utter that aphorism, you’d be rich. But in this case, we can be lenient with Erik ten Hag, the manager of Manchester United.

In the FA Cup final, Manchester City added yet another trophy to their rapidly expanding trophy case, placing the Red Devils in second place.

With five Premier League titles in the last six seasons and the treble now a strong possibility this season, Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut may be erecting a monopoly in England, which may worry those who value the spirit of competition.

But the statistics for the trophies don’t tell the whole story.
In two fiercely contested title races, Liverpool pushed them all the way, and for a while, it appeared as though Arsenal would win the English premier league this year.

Arsenal’s late collapse and bang-average cup performances indicate that they are still some distance from being able to seriously compete against City.

Failure to qualify for the Champions League for the upcoming season suggests Liverpool won’t be seated at the same table as the Etihad team for the foreseeable future. Guardiola once hilariously called Liverpool a ‘pain in the a***.’

Here comes Manchester United, who, despite their heartbreak at Wembley, can look back on a season of great growth after winning the Carabao Cup, their first significant trophy in six years. At the first opportunity, they also regained their place in the Champions League.

Guardiola is correct that the better team won, but the beautiful game doesn’t always work that way.

Ilkay Gundogan’s record-breaking goal could have easily led to Man United’s collapse, but they recovered quickly, and Bruno Fernandes’ composed penalty equalized the game.

Man United would prefer that as little as possible be said about the goal that ended up being the victor, but they nearly forced their opponents into an extra period.

In the second half, when Stefan Ortega was outplayed on all fronts, the explosive Alejandro Garnacho curled the ball just wide of the post, and in the frantic stoppage-time melee, Scott McTominay headed the ball against the crossbar.

In his post-game press conference, Ten Hag was keen to emphasize how far City have come since they humiliated Man United 6-3 at the Etihad Stadium in October.

First of all, Ten Hag wished to congratulate City on their FA Cup victory. “But I believe it was quite small. It seemed very competitive, head-to-head, and I believe it was.

“We had excellent organization, and we didn’t allow them to play freely against arguably the best team in the world right now.

“We fought back after going down quickly by one goal, and I believe we are the only team in the world to have done so against City. I’m pleased with my team’s performance.”

“Now that the season is over,” Ten Hag concluded, “We had a fantastic season.

“We have been working hard to advance the team all season long, and I’m very proud of where we’ve come from the beginning of the season.

“Keep in mind the Etihad and [the 4-0 loss to] Brentford. It’s not a coincidence that we proved we could compete against City at home by winning today. We might have been able to win this game on another day.”

Ten Hag is fully aware that competing against the best in the world over the course of a nine-month season is entirely different from competing against them over the course of 90 minutes.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” he declared. “But if you want to advance and win trophies, there are some game-related problems that need to be fixed.”

Many supporters believe Man United won’t advance as long as the Glazer family controls Old Trafford.

Early indications indicate that this goal will be accomplished with vigor, with Man United edging closer to signing Mason Mount of England and Chelsea, as well as continuing links to stars Harry Kane and Declan Rice.

The 13-time Premier League champions’ future is uncertain at the moment because a deal to buy the team from the infamous Glazer family still doesn’t seem to be moving forward.

However, their performance at Wembley demonstrates that they are capable of returning to their position if enough members of the team want them to.

Igbo Kennedy

Igbo Kennedy

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