FA Cup semi-finals are seldom the most spectacular of footballing occasions, as nerves cripple creative freedom and managers drop defensive blocks deeper and deeper, but this game between two of the top flight’s stalwarts was a cracker. A game of ‘proper English football’ fast-paced, lots of crowd noise and dodgy defending, but, crucially, short of that bit of star quality we would be treated to elsewhere. The fact the game entertained us was as shocking as Wayne Rooney’s box office performance, an end-to-end encounter had everything a neutral could want, but do we know anything more about these players? Or even the managers?
Bobby Martinez and Louis van Gaal both came in to this huge game under even bigger pressure, they are both on the edge of the sack and the respective performances of their teams left the Spaniard at a far greater threat than the ego-driven Dutchman. Both teams, despite having dominant periods, proved that they have done nothing to right the wrongs of the campaign. The two managers have both been brutally criticised for never learning from their mistakes and, frankly, that most damaging of traits was compounded at Wembley. We do not know anything more about Roberto Martinez or Louis van Gaal. Both of these managers made the same tactical mistakes they have made all season and the game was such a wonderful spectacle because of their respective weaknesses.
The players, hey? Everton are better going forwards when Gerard Deulofeu plays, remarkable, yeah? No, its really not. Every man and his dog knows that Gerard Deulofeu is a more creative influence than Aaron Lennon, yet Roberto Martinez seems adamant that this is not the case. Within the first few minutes of the game we saw Romelu Lukaku power his way through on goal, did we learn that Lukaku is a monstrous athlete today? Lukaku then mis-controlled the ball on numerous occasions, did we learn that Lukaku’s game lacks the subtleties of a world class striker today?
John Stones produced some slick passes and confident footwork today, whilst making the occasional defensive mistake, although we are pretty sure that this isn’t something we discovered today. In fact, those who have watched Stones regularly could’ve told you that about 18 months ago.
Manchester United, typically, did not do anything differently to what we may have expected. Although Van Gaal’s team were playing in a more exciting manner than usual and produced some exuberant attacking football in the first half, the pace and skill of Lingard, Martial and Rashford is not something to hold the front page for.
Wayne Rooney, although people seem to have forgotten, has always had an excellent passing range. The England skipper dropped slightly deeper against Everton, but the sheer shock across social media at his creative performance in the first half was odd. We did not learn Rooney can play in midfield today. For years we have suspected that Rooney may drop deeper and he did not display specific skills or talent that we were not aware of.
David de Gea was exceptional at Wembley, too. The Spaniard made a brilliant penalty save and kept United in the game for the second half, but we are pretty sure that everyone knew how good De Gea was before today, don’t you? Real Madrid certainly did.
Everton’s flaky defence and Manchester United’s imbalanced midfield have been issues for a couple of years now, the difference on this occasion was the ability of United’s forwards to finish.
Only Lukaku and Barkley have scored more than five goals for the Toffees this season and Lukaku’s poor finishing, along with their under-15 style defending, cost Martinez’s side the game. Everton have relied too heavily on Lukaku to score their goals all season, whilst Manchester United’s side looks to be finally taking shape. United’s weaknesses were on full show in the second half, proving that Louis van Gaal, like us, has learnt very little.
We will see the internet awash with ‘five things we learned’ pieces after this match, but this game did not reveal anything new. Two teams who have consistently failed to sort their problems have provided us with a Wembley classic.