Tuesday Team Talk: Man Utd gifted transfer edge after FA Cup’s 90 minutes of madness

Late January has not always been kind to Manchester United but this weekend might just have been the best the club have had this season.

Two decades after Eric Cantona’s kung fu kick, United looked set for another disappointment after League Two Cambridge United held on to force an FA Cup replay.

Cambridge’s starting XI was assembled for free and their annual wage bill of just over £1million is a fraction more than Wayne Rooney’s monthly salary, yet they will play at Old Trafford.

United maintained their record of having lost just once in 41 FA Cup ties against lower league opposition but Louis van Gaal was rightly frustrated at another poor result.

His appointment was heralded after guiding the Netherlands on an exhilarating run to third place finish at last year’s World Cup.

And the excitement mounted as a £150million spending spree saw the arrival of football superstars including Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao.

This reformed squad, it was felt, surely couldn’t fail in the same way United had last year as they slumped to an eighth-placed finish following David Moyes’ tumultuous tenure.

Yet with just four months to go this time around, a 0-0 draw away to opposition 76 places below them was met with as much hope as it was fury.

Even Van Gaal’s post-match rallying cry pointed to the discomfort the tie had caused United, just another sign that this squad are still far from the finished article.

However, in the space of an hour and a half on Saturday afternoon, the Red Devils went from underperforming giant to FA Cup favourite.

Jose Mourinho said he was ashamed after 2013 League Cup finalists Bradford City overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat a much changed Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge.

Southampton and Tottenham fell to Premier League opposition and local rivals Manchester City, fresh from a trip to Abu Dhabi, fell 2-0 to Championship high flyers Middlesbrough.

It is the first time since 1997 the Premier League’s top three have all been eliminated at this stage and United, in fourth, are now the highest placed team left.

It was the FA Cup at its finest and Van Gaal has rightly identified the tournament as his best chance of silverware in his first season with the club.

The brilliance of goalkeeper Chris Dunn earned Cambridge a fourth round replay but even manager Richard Money has admitted he holds little hope of progressing to round five.

With most of their rivals for Champions League qualification still embroiled in European campaigns of their own, United already hold an edge in the league.

And the prospect of silverware will only help the club entice the replacements that many expect to arrive this summer.

A central defender will be top of Van Gaal’s most wanted list as he continues to develop a side that he hopes will provide Chelsea and Manchester City with a serious title challenge next season.

But, for now at least, a sprinkling of FA Cup magic has opened the way for United to make a return to winning ways in the Dutchman’s first season in charge.

Arsenal, Liverpool and West Ham will also believe that the FA Cup is there for the taking, but for Van Gaal’s men this weekend has presented them with a golden opportunity.

Main image courtesy of Jonny Blair via YouTube, with thanks.

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