Wembley plays host to finals weekend with FA Cup and Championship promotion races decided

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All eyes will be firmly set on Wembley this weekend, with two of the most important games of the season taking place at the national stadium. 

Saturday sees the second Manchester derby FA Cup final in as many years, with Manchester City gunning for a historic double when they take on long-standing rivals Manchester United in the final of the world’s oldest cup competition. 

Last season’s all-Manchester affair saw Pep Guardiola’s men prevail in a hugely entertaining battle under the arches, with a stunning early strike from Ilkay Gundogan paving the way for a 2-1 victory. Bruno Fernandes hit back with a penalty just after the half hour mark before Gundogan doubled his haul six minutes into the second half to seal the win and help City to a memorable treble win alongside their successes in the Premier League and Champions League. 

It is somewhat difficult to look past a similar outcome occurring this weekend when the two sides meet on this particular stage again. City are fresh from a fourth consecutive title win thanks to their 3-1 win over West Ham last Sunday, while United finished 8th after a miserable campaign fuelled by more disappointment – their lowest ever Premier League finish. 

Erik ten Hag’s future remains hanging in the balance, as the rumour mill continues to spin at a rate of knots around a potential replacement for the Dutchman. A surprise win at Wembley would surely be enough to keep him in the job, though, but the challenge which lies in wait could not be any greater. 

Not only have City – yet again – proven they are the best in class by clinching the title ahead of an extremely strong Arsenal side who took them right down to the wire, but they also head into Sunday’s showpiece event having lost just one game since the start of December – and even that defeat came against Champions League finalists Real Madrid, on penalties. Having completed the double over United in the league this term, as well as beating them in last season’s FA Cup final, the mental advantage lies firmly with the Cityzens ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster. 

City have cantered their way to the final by scoring 15 goals and conceding just twice since their 5-0 first round mauling of Huddersfield Town in January. United, by stark contrast, have stumbled to this stage and needed penalties to beat Championship outfit Coventry in April’s semi-final having initially led that game 3-0. 

That is not to say United stand no chance in this one, however. The points above are not to diminish their chances but merely to highlight the substantial battle which lies in the offing for them on Saturday afternoon. A derby alone often eradicates recent form and when one is coupled with the stature of a cup final, the chance of an upset only rises. 

United ended the season strongly with two wins against Newcastle and Brighton, which will provide them with an ounce of confidence at Wembley. They have a puncher’s chance in this one and after such a poor campaign in the league, finishing the campaign with an FA Cup win under their belt would certainly reignite some faith amongst the Old Trafford faithful and that alone is enough to spur any team on in a one-off game of such magnitude. Put frankly, this is far from a foregone conclusion irrespective of what the formbook bellows. 

This weekend’s FA Cup final is not the only game of importance. 24 hours later and it is the Championship’s turn to take centre stage with a game dubbed as the most financially important fixture in world football – the playoff final. 

And what a game it promises to be, with two of the three teams relegated from the Premier League last season – Leeds and Southampton – locking horns for a place back in the big time at the first time of asking. 

Southampton have done a league double over Leeds this season, with the most recent of those two victories coming on the season’s final day at Elland Road, so they will perhaps feel the more confident of the pair – although it was Leeds who looked the slightly more dangerous during the playoff semi-finals as they surgically dismantled Norwich with a razor sharp swagger.

The Saints saw off West Brom with few questions asked in their semi-final second leg at St. Mary’s and have a plethora of quality pulsating through their squad. Whether it will be good enough to contain the Championship Player of the Season Crysencio Summerville – who looked unplayable throughout that ferocious fixture against the Canaries – is something which remains to be seen.

This game could literally go either way and there is barely anything to split these two teams. It would not be all too surprising to see another Wembley penalty shootout introduced as the deciding factor as to who will, and will not, be playing Premier League football again next term. 

FA Cup final – Saturday 25th May, 3pm

Man City vs Man Utd

Championship playoff final – Sunday 26th May, 3pm

Leeds vs Southampton

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