Manchester United beats Coventry on penalties and reaches the FA Cup final – Al Mojaz

Football…bloody hell, as someone once said.

Manchester United managed to turn a walk in the park into a fight for survival at Wembley as they were tied 3-0 up, saw Coventry City's winning goal ruled out in the final moments of extra time, and just beat the Championship side 4-2 on penalties to reach the FA Cup final. The Englishman next month against Manchester City.

Goals from Scott McTominay, Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes sent Erik ten Hag's side three ahead and relegated to the sunshine in north-west London, but Coventry had other ideas.

Ellis Sims scored the first goal in the 71st minute, passing the ball with his right foot into a space of yards inside the penalty area, and Callum O'Hare added the second goal seven minutes later, his shot deflecting off Aaron Wan-Bissaka onto the wrong foot. Goalkeeper Andre Onana.

United fans held their breath when Viktor Torp fired a powerful shot from the edge of the box, and again when Coventry passed Onana with time running out.

Then came that all-too-familiar feeling when referee Robert Jones awarded a stoppage-time penalty after ruling that Lewis Binks' shot had struck Wan-Bissaka's arm. The VAR chose not to overturn the decision and Al-Hajj Wright stepped up to make it 3-3.

Wright scores the equalizer for Coventry from the penalty spot (Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

There was more drama in overtime. Wright curled a shot just wide of the far post, Sims hit the crossbar, and Coventry's late winner was ruled out for offside after Torp thought he had completed the highlight of the comeback.

Casemiro saved United's first penalty kick, but Onana blocked O'Hare's shot before captain Ben Sheff fired his effort high over the bar. Rasmus Hoglund scored United's final penalty kick to book his side's place in the Manchester final on 25 May.

Onana received a second yellow card during the penalty shootout but was not sent off as his first yellow card was not carried forward after extra time. The same thing happened to his Aston Villa counterpart Emiliano Martinez last week in his team's Europa League quarter-final victory over French club Lille. Onana will not be suspended for the final, as the accumulated FA Cup bookings expire in the quarter-finals, according to the Football Association.

An exhausted Karl Anka breaks down the key talking points from Wembley…

Why United? always Seems to do this?

At the hour mark, The athleteJ wrote a long paragraph about how United's performance in the semi-final was the most measured and controlled in months. There were lines showing how Ten Hag sent fewer players in front of the ball when in possession, and were better at compressing space between the lines when operating without it. This team was 3-0 up and looking like they had reached the FA Cup Final. Despite injuries, off-field turmoil and other problems, Ten Hag almost managed to secure their third national final in two seasons.

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Then it happened. Another collapse.

But this match lacked the speed or chaos of last fall's Champions League defeats to Galatasaray and Copenhagen, instead demonstrating the constant inevitability – drip, drip, drip – drip – of water damage to a home.

O'Hare's goal, which made the score 3-2, spread fear in United's ranks. Coventry went on the attack, attacking the space behind the disappointing Marcus Rashford, taking advantage of Wan-Bissaka's naivety in dealing with balls from wide areas. Had it not been for several vital interceptions from Diogo Dalot on crosses (a known weakness for United), the Championship side could have scored a fourth or fifth goal in normal time. In the end, they had to settle for a 95th-minute penalty from Wright to send the game into extra time.

It would take the 97th-minute introduction of Amad Diallo in place of Rashford – who was out injured – for United to stop the bleeding on their left flank and regain a semblance of control, but by then the damage had already been done. The young Ivorian's ability to play in tight areas and his precise passing brought to United what Rashford could not.


(Glenn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

Fatigued bodies and exhausted minds mean that any United lead – even a three-goal one – will be fragile. The hard running and passing of Fernandes and Dalot can only go so far when it motivates a team that lacks so much confidence and chemistry.

What does this mean for Ten Hag and his future?

“Three nil and you nailed it,” was one of the chants chanted by the Coventry fans after their team equalised.

Another phrase directed at Ten Hag was: “You will be sacked in the morning.”

The United manager said on Friday he had no concerns about what outsiders said about his performance or job security, saying the real issue was the injury crisis that had prevented him from selecting his strongest XI in more than “18 months”.

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Additional injuries to Mason Mount, Sofiane Amrabat and Willie Kambwala on Friday may have strengthened his case. How many teams can win a Wembley semi-final with a defensive midfielder at centre-back and a right-back having to play on the left flank?

Ten pilgrims

(Glenn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

But injuries can only explain the recurring, inexplicable and infuriating collapses for which United were responsible in the 2023-24 season. It was another game in which Ten Hag's men squandered a multi-goal lead.

There is a gap between what Ten Hag wants and what these players can do, and neither side seems able to bridge the distance.

This was certainly an interesting proposition for United co-owners Joel and Avram Glazer, both of whom were in attendance at Wembley, as well as new investor Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who had just completed the London Marathon earlier in the day.

It is doubtful which of the activities undertaken by the INEOS founder on Sunday was more exhausting and painful.

Did Casemiro work as a centre-back?

He didn't make it from the spot, that's for sure – his poor effort was comfortably saved to put United on the defensive from the start of the shootout.

Ten Hag had to move Casemiro from midfield to centre-back to cover Kambwala's absence due to injury. United's 2023-24 season has been a story of square pegs slotted into round holes, but Casemiro has put together a reasonable body of work at Wembley, taking guidance from centre-back partner Maguire and Dalot.

The 32-year-old took some time to grow on this occasion. In the 11th minute, Wright evaded him to create a counter-attack opportunity for Coventry. Had Dalot not stepped back to make a tackle, the American striker would have found his way through the net.

Casemiro was not the dominant defensive defender in previous seasons with United and Real Madrid, but he found ways to showcase his other talents. He has a tremendous aerial presence in both penalty areas, and his long passes – which have been erratic for large parts of the season – were much smoother today.

The extra time and space on the ball he was given as a centre-back meant he could execute his preferred passes with greater precision, as when he set up Rashford in the 18th minute with a long ball over the top.

(Ash Donlon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

The Brazilian entered at the end of the first half having made four tackles and an additional clearance. But Coventry made just 40 passes into the final third in the first 45 minutes, compared to 120 for United. It was a completely different story in the second half and extra time.

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As Sims' goal showed, Casemiro's time at centre-back can only be a temporary measure. The former Everton striker found himself in too much space, and after that, Casemiro and Maguire defended with an increasingly worrying and uncomfortable energy. Wright was also outclassed by Casemiro, who couldn't match the USMNT international in terms of pace and looked tired as the match wore on.

May's Premier League matches against Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Brighton – and of course the FA Cup final against neighbors City – may need his experience again in central midfield. But with several centre-backs injured, Casemiro did enough to help his side get over the line on this occasion.

To paraphrase one of his sayings, the semi-final at Wembley is not about playing, “it's about winning, any way we can.”

Manchester United

Simms celebrates Coventry's first goal as Casemiro looks on (Ian Kington/AFP via Getty Images)

What did Tin Hag say?

“It is a huge achievement to reach two FA Cup finals in two years,” the United boss said. “In the last 20 years, United have been in five times. Now twice in two years, a huge achievement.

“But when you are in control of the game, dominating it, you have to finish it. The way we did it was not good. I have to say in the penalty kicks, how we behaved there, how determined we were, that was a good sign showing good character. From the 70th minute until the end We made mistakes and it wasn't supposed to happen.

“We can play at very high levels in the same game and we can play at very low levels in the same game. It's inexplicable but it's about managing the game, taking responsibility, taking responsibility for each other.

“I have to let my players know clearly. We have to perform better on such occasions, but the difficult thing is to put ourselves in a winning position, and the last thing is much easier. On several occasions we let ourselves finish and let the result slip away from us, but we got away with it.” Punishment.”

What's next for United?

Wednesday 24 April: Sheffield United (home), Premier League; 8pm UK time, 3pm ET

United return to Premier League action in midweek, welcoming the bottom team to Old Trafford. So no doubt it will be quite clear….

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(Top image: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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