The game and result once again illustrated that Pep Guardiola’s side are a cut above everyone else and victory over the Italians in next weekend’s Champions League final would be perfect reward for yet another impressive season.
Here is what else we learned from the FA Cup final at Wembley.
Sancho does little to repay Ten Hag’s faith
Was this the last time Erik ten Hag starts Jadon Sancho over Alejandro Garnacho? With Antony and Anthony Martial both unavailable due to injury, the Manchester United manager opted to start Sancho over Garnacho, a decision he may now rue.
There was a moment in the 91st minute when the ball went out of play and Garnacho began screaming at the ball boy to return it quickly with Manchester City’s players trying to run down the clock. It was the sort of urgency United did not see all afternoon from Sancho, who hid when his team were in possession and downed tools when they were out of it, a performance devoid of belief, fight and a whole lot in between.
His only notable contribution was to protect the penalty spot from being scuffed up by City’s players before Bruno Fernandes stepped up to score.
Garnacho’s determination and confidence to run at City’s defence in the 28 minutes he was on the pitch could not have contrasted more starkly with his team-mate’s apathy. The 18-year-old Argentine represents United’s future. Sancho, on this evidence, does not.
Ten Hag has given Sancho every chance to kick on and took a decision few managers would have done by allowing the England winger a few months away from the club this season to improve his physical and mental condition but he has got little back in return. At 23, Sancho is no longer a promising teenager. Those days have gone and, for £73 million, he has to be delivering so much more.
He is on borrowed time and if someone comes in with a palatable offer this summer — even if it is hard to see who and would involve taking a hefty hit — you have to wonder if Ten Hag will be tempted to take the money and run.
A tale of two benches
It is easy to forget what a toxic mess Ten Hag inherited 12 months ago. The Dutchman has done a fine job dragging United out of the mire, back into the Champions League and with a first trophy for six years. He deserves plenty of credit.
But no one at Old Trafford should be underestimating the work required this summer. Ten Hag certainly does not but the noises coming out of the club — that there may only be a couple of signings unless they manage to raise a lot money through sales or a takeover frees up cash — should alarm supporters as much as their manager, who cannot be let down in the window. United made five permanent signings last summer and need that again this time around.
A glance at the two benches should have told United officials all they need to know. There is a strong argument that at least seven of City’s nine substitutes would walk into United’s first XI. Riyad Mahrez and World Cup winner Julian Alvarez did not even get off the bench. Garnacho was the only game-changing substitute available to Ten Hag, and he is still a teenager.
Christian Eriksen’s struggles show why United want Mason Mount
United did a smart piece of business last summer when they signed Christian Eriksen on a free transfer. Certainly during the opening months of the season, he brought control and composure in midfield and gave Ten Hag a player who could speed up — and slow down — the tempo when required.
Since returning from a two-month injury lay off in early April, though, the strains of a marathon season have begun to show, which is entirely understandable for a player who suffered a cardiac arrest two years ago. And that fatigue was clearly evident against City, with the pace just too quick for the 31-year-old.
Eriksen would have been put to better use as an impact substitute at Wembley but it is reflective of the shortage of alternative options available to Ten Hag that he felt compelled to start the Dane — and why he wants Mason Mount from Chelsea. United have opened discussions with Chelsea for the England midfielder, with Ten Hag keen for a No. 8 who offers quality on the ball and intensity and mobility off it.
No repeat for Fred of January joy against Kevin De Bruyne
Fred was tasked with trying to muzzle Kevin De Bruyne in much the same way as he had done very effectively in the 2-1 over City at Old Trafford in January. Suffice to say, it was a different outcome this time around.
The warning signs were there as early as the fourth minute when the City midfielder got away from Fred down the right and then was hacked down by the Brazilian. From De Bruyne’s resulting free-kick, Rodri brushed a header narrowly wide. Fred did not get another reprieve in the second half, though. Another foul led to another De Bruyne free-kick — only this one was met by another Ilkay Gundogan volley and another goal. It was, on the day, a mismatch.