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Manchester United fans hope for lucky 13th FA Cup win at Wembley

ESPN takes a look at what Prince William's journey from the Royal Wedding at Windsor to the FA Cup final at Wembley would've looked like, had he decided to do both.
Phil Jones told ESPN that a club like Manchester United should be winning the league plus another trophy to make the season a success.

One of the most curious events in Manchester United's recent history followed the 2016 FA Cup final win against Crystal Palace. As manager Louis van Gaal climbed Wembley's steps to the platform where his team would receive the trophy, his image was shown on giant screens inside the stadium. Upon seeing it, thousands booed.

It was unedifying and not in the style of United fans at a game. Even when some lost faith in Van Gaal's football through during that 2015-16 season, there was little barracking of him at matches and nothing like the criticism he was receiving online.

But that changed at Wembley, even though United won a 12th FA Cup. The Dutchman blamed the English media but the fans weren't fooled and had had enough. Van Gaal knew he was losing his job within minutes of the final whistle and what should have been a celebration turned into an evening of awkwardness.

Whatever the result in Saturday's final between United and Chelsea, there's little chance of a repeat. Jose Mourinho is in a better position after two years than was his predecessor; he's won more trophies, finished second in the Premier League and picked up excellent results against big sides. A majority think he should stay into a third term and have the time he wanted when he took the job to complete the transformation from the turgid possession tactics of Van Gaal.

A backlash would not be far away at the start of next season if United's start is not excellent, but fans appreciate the improvement, if not quite with the same level of enthusiasm shown by the club's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward when he delivered third-quarter financial results to the New York Stock exchange on Thursday.

While Woodward presented a healthy picture and the club are encouraged by more sponsorship deals and surging numbers viewing the club's own media channels, there's a caveat when it comes to on-pitch performance.

The club's investor relations website states: "At Manchester United Greatness is more than a word; it's a way of being, it's about going further, doing more, respect, honour, never settling for ordinary, inspiring people, our legacy, walking with giants and lifting the prize."

Manchester United fans will descend upon Wembley hoping to see their club win another FA Cup.

However, United no longer walk with the giants in European competition and fans feel like they've had to settle for ordinary fare too often in recent years. Even the allure of summer signings isn't the same; world-class players have arrived with great fanfare, only to underwhelm. Overall, few have seemed to improve after arriving at Old Trafford and fans are more circumspect.

It was not always the case but United can compete for any player in the world on price, yet investment hasn't made the team substantially better and there are still question marks over the majority of the current first-team squad. That's lot of doubts.

Winning the FA Cup would see the season end on a high, though. The competition isn't as important as the Premier League or Champions League and numerous trips to Wembley -- United have visited 12 times this decade -- have seen the thrill diminish, but it's still a big deal for supporters.

United and Chelsea were the best two teams in the world a decade ago -- Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the side's European Cup final in Moscow -- and pushed to make each other better. They are far from that level now, but that's the cyclical nature of football; Manchester City finished ninth in that 2007-08 season.

Barcelona, meanwhile, were third in La Liga, 18 points behind Real. A year later, they won the Treble. Few saw that happening and few can see United being the best in England or Europe a year from now, but the fans will support through thick and thin.

Around 35,000 will travel to Wembley. Tickets quickly sold out and United worked hard to acquire another 1,500 from England's Football Association. On the resale market, they are only changing hands for around two or three times the (expensive) face value. It would be 10 times for a Champions League final.

After drinking in pubs around Euston, Kilburn, Swiss Cottage, Harrow and Wembley on a day when nearby Windsor hosts a Royal wedding, fans will head into the stadium. The area around it continues to be developed at a rapid pace but its distinctive arch towers over North West London. The traditional pre-cup final songs of "Abide With Me" and the national anthem will also be recognisable.

After being outsung in that 2016 final by Crystal Palace fans, United's following have got their act together. They were louder against Tottenham in last month's semifinal and sections have been put aside for those wanting to actively contribute to the atmosphere. Supporters have also worked with the club to have retro flags left on seats.

Expect a similar United lineup to the one which started vs. Spurs. The team arrived in London on Wednesday and are looking forward to seeing their families after the game on Saturday. Some players will never represent the club again, others will hope that is the case and some will be sure that they are in the right place for the future, which will be brighter if United win.

That's all to be sorted after the season. For now, we can look forward to a FA Cup final on a sunny May afternoon.

Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.


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