LONDON — Manchester United prepared for an FA Cup final against neighbors Manchester City with a dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Brighton & Hove Albion at Wembley on Sunday.
After 120 goalless minutes and six successful penalties in each shoot-out, Solly March missed Brighton’s seventh shot before Victor Lindelof scored.
It means Manchester’s two rivals will meet in the final of an FA Cup for the first time on June 3, giving Man United a chance to potentially prevent Man City from completing the treble – a feat seen only once before achieved in England by Man was united in 1999.
1. Mental toughness sees Man United into FA Cup final against Man City
United manager Erik ten Hag said he wanted an answer to his side’s dismal Europa League exit on Thursday in Seville and, at least in character, he got it. There were periods of Sunday’s game when United were second best to Brighton, but when it became a mental test in the penalty shoot-out they held on to the edge.
Man United had lost seven of their last eight penalties, including against Villarreal in the 2021 Europa League final, but they prevailed against Brighton to secure a first-ever FA Cup-only final against Manchester City in June.
Victor Lindelof scored the crucial penalty after March missed for Brighton – but special mention should be made of Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, both of whom converted from the penalty spot almost two years after England lost to Italy in the European Championship final. Sancho had a miserable season and was weak against Sevilla on Thursday, but he showed great strength, first calling for a penalty and then putting it away.
There was a risk that the season could go haywire following the disaster in Spain, but Ten Hag’s side have plenty of scope ahead of them over the next six weeks, with an FA Cup final to look forward to , and a place in the top four to win.
2. Brighton’s midfield overplayed Man United’s
Midfield is one of many areas of the United squad that needs strengthening and Ten Hag could fare worse than Brighton pairing Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo, who made Brighton the better team for stretches.
The two players are so important to the way Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi wants to play with his side and both received special attention from Man United midfielders Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes as Brighton attempted to play from behind . But centre-backs Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster relied on Mac Allister and Caicedo’s ability to find half a meter of space and toss the ball to another blue jersey.
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Time and time again United tried to force errors on Brighton but mostly Mac Allister and Caicedo guided them through the pressure. Pep Guardiola recently hailed Brighton’s developmental football as ‘the best in the world’ and they lived up to the bill at Wembley.
In contrast, United often tried to play long on Anthony Martial and there was a reason Brighton had completed twice as many passes after 25 minutes. Brighton had the better chances in 90 minutes and looked the most likely until penalties, but Brighton and especially Mac Allister and Caicedo can be proud of their performance.
3. Brighton’s growth under De Zerbi has been remarkable
This was only Brighton’s second FA Cup semi-final since reaching the final in 1983 – when they lost to United in a replay – but days like these become the norm when they progress in the same way under De Zerbi.
The Seagulls will never have the budget to regularly compete with Man United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the Premier League – but with Italy manager in charge, it’s realistic to think they can make it for a challenge place in Europe. Given the upheaval caused by the loss of Graham Potter to Chelsea in September, it’s remarkable what De Zerbi has been able to achieve despite dropping out of the job mid-season.
The problem for Brighton is that their best players will always attract the attention of top clubs – as Arsenal’s pursuit of Caicedo in January shows – and retaining them all is almost impossible. Losing key staff summer after summer puts pressure on recruiting to uncover hidden gems, but the development of players like March has already shown De Zerbi to be a manager who can get the best out of a squad.
Brighton fans enjoyed their day at Wembley Stadium and turned it into a sea of blue and white flags before kick-off. You will be back soon.
Best and worst performers
Best: Moises Caicedo, MF, Brighton
United’s two No8s tried to put the pressure on him but he was still good enough to bounce the ball around in tight spaces.
Best: David De Gea, GK, Manchester United
He had a shocker against Sevilla but made three good saves here, the first from a Mac Allister free-kick after just seven minutes.
Best: Victor Lindelof, DF, Manchester United
Defended well in place of Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane and scored the winning penalty in the shootout.
Worst: Christian Eriksen, MF, ManUnited
Having just returned from a serious injury, he looked lackluster and was substituted off early in the second half.
Worst: Julio Enciso, FW, Brighton
The 19-year-old made a good save from David De Gea but he was sometimes a bit naïve with his use of the ball.
Worst: Antony, FW, ManUnited
The Brazilian winger found some good positions but his decisions inside the Brighton box infuriated Ten Hag.
Highlights and notable moments
VICTOR LINDELOF SENT MAN UNITED TO THE FA CUP FINAL 😱🏆 pic.twitter.com/8KGIREVTb6
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 23, 2023
After the game: What the coaches and players said
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag on his team’s reaction after losing to Sevilla: “On Thursday I saw a team that I didn’t recognize, but today we went back to normal. I could see determination and resilience. We fought for every meter and took part in every fight. We had good chances.”
Ten Hag on goalkeeper David de Gea’s performance: “I was very impressed with him. He made some brilliant saves. It hurt when he made mistakes on Thursday.”
Key Statistics (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
Man United advance to 21st FA Cup final to tie Arsenal for most of all time
Man United have reached the final of the two major domestic cup competitions for the third time in a season, having previously done so in 1982/83 and 1993/94. They defeated Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final.
Man United are in both the FA and League Cup finals for the first time since 1993/94 (won FA, lost League Cup).
Brighton have never won a competitive game at Wembley, drawing and losing four of their five visits. That run began against Manchester United in the 1983 FA Cup Final in a 2–2 draw and a 4–0 defeat in a replay.
Man United have been excluded from regulation for the first time in consecutive games (all competitions) this season.
Brighton & Hove Albion: The Seagulls continue their Premier League campaign on Wednesday at 2:30pm ET with a visit to Nottingham Forest.
Manchester United: The fourth-placed Red Devils travel to Tottenham on Thursday at 15:15 ET to take on fifth-placed Spurs in the Premier League in a game that could have big implications for the Champions League top-four . The FA Cup Final between Man United and Man City will be held at Wembley Stadium on June 3rd.