Much at stake for bosses

Marcus Rashford (right) controlling the ball during United's 2-0 Premier League win against Crystal Palace last month. The English forward and Anthony Martial have been rare bright spots for Louis van Gaal's side this season. Palace, meanwhile, are s
Marcus Rashford (right) controlling the ball during United's 2-0 Premier League win against Crystal Palace last month. The English forward and Anthony Martial have been rare bright spots for Louis van Gaal's side this season. Palace, meanwhile, are seeking the first major trophy of their 111-year history.PHOTO: REUTERS

Winning the FA Cup could secure van Gaal's job or Pardew's legacy in the history books

Louis van Gaal is looking for a silver lining to a sorry season. Even the Manchester United manager had to concede that his side have regressed in the Premier League.

Winning United's first FA Cup since 2004 and their first major trophy since Alex Ferguson's retirement would enable him to claim this year has not been a write-off.

It is likely to preserve his position at Old Trafford, something that fills many a United supporter with dread.

He is looking for validation, Alan Pardew for immortality.

The Englishman, scorer of the goal that took Crystal Palace to the 1990 FA Cup final, already has a place in the London club's history.

Yet his status would be still greater if, 111 years after Palace were formed, he could secure their maiden piece of silverware in just their second final.

Palace are underdogs, just as they were in 1990, when they drew 3-3 with United at Wembley. A 1-0 replay win secured Ferguson's first honour in England. There would be 37 more.

United know FA Cup wins can lead to something, Pardew that defeats can be cruel.

His West Ham team were moments from winning the competition in 2006 before Steven Gerrard intervened.

A decade on, Pardew, equipped with a new contract, is back on the big stage.

Palace have been hideously out of form, losing 12 and winning only two of their last 19 league games. United have six victories in eight games. They have more form and more pressure.

They will have more of the ball, too, and not just because of van Gaal's preferred style of play. Pardew's tactic will be to use the counter-attacking pace of Palace's unpredictable wingers, Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha, to try and target the United full-backs, a problem position for the Dutchman.

Pardew's selection dilemma is whether to pick the target man Connor Wickham or the quicker, nippier Dwight Gayle in attack.

Van Gaal has to decide if Cameron Borthwick-Jackson remains his left-back or if he recalls the out-of-form Marcos Rojo. He could bring back Marouane Fellaini, available again after a ban.

The chances are that he will retain a central midfield trio of Michael Carrick, perhaps playing his last United game, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney instead.

His hopes rest with Anthony Martial, scorer of the dramatic semi-final winner against Everton, and Marcus Rashford, who delivered the crucial quarter-final replay opener at West Ham.

Such grounds for optimism as exist at Old Trafford stem from the performances of their two young forwards, neither born the last time United faced Palace in a final.

They have already bought van Gaal time with their spring excellence. They may buy the Dutchman another year, which may be a bitter-sweet triumph.

But, when United have been short of trophies, they have to accept any they can get.

CRYSTAL PALACE V MAN UNITED
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline 'Much at stake for bosses'. Print Edition | Subscribe