Manchester City claimed their third Premier League title on the bounce this season and now have their sights set on a legendary Treble. Standing in their way of immortality is Inter Milan in the final of the Champions League and Manchester United in the FA Cup with the latter first up this coming Saturday. The question is, whether anyone can stop Pep Guardiola and co. from winning everything?
“Yes, we can! And I say this because we've already beat them this season," says Ben Thornley when asked about the prospects of a Manchester United upset at Wembley on Saturday.
“Obviously, we need to be at the top of our game, everybody has to be switched on mentally. But we're in a good vein of form, four straight wins, so we have confidence going into this final", the former Manchester United player states confidently.
Thornley was part of the legendary “Class of 92", mates with David Beckham, Gary Neville and the likes. However, a promising future was shattered by a horrendous injury and left him with a career which never took off after.
The past few years he's returned to Manchester United, working for the in-house MUTV in which capacity he's watched United and City play each other twice this season. Did he take any vital lessons with him from those games.
“Yes, don't go down 4-0 in the first half," he tell Tribalfootball.com with a huge grin, before adding, “Everybody needs to do their job. There are so many good players in that Man City team, and if you give them too much time, too much space and respect, they will inevitably hurt you. But we beat City, we beat Arsenal and we beat Liverpool at Old Trafford, and on all three occasions we pressed high and made it difficult for those teams to play their game. Going for a similar style I think will be key to us beating Man City on Saturday. We need that high intensity," says Thornley, who has been greatly impressed by what Erik Ten Hag has done with the club in his first season at Old Trafford.
“He's been magnificent. Everything has been thrown at him, be it bad results or having to deal with individual players. He's been exemplary in the things he's done and said and the way he's acted," Thornley says of the gaffer, whose simultaneously been able to stamp his authority.
“We now have a manager that's made it very clear in the dressing room who is in charge. He had to deal with (Cristiano) Ronaldo and the situation with (Harry) Maguire and the captaincy and everyone has followed suit. The result being a third place, we're back in the Champions League, we've won a trophy and have a chance of adding one more. Ten Hag must take a lot of credit for that."
Ten Hag's final task in a long season is to stop their city rivals from emulating the famous Treble won by Manchester United in 1999, and there's no doubting the importance of doing just that, says Thornley.
“It would be huge if we could be the ones to stop them. It really would and I think we have the best chance of stopping them. Should City win on Saturday, I don't think Inter will be able to do it. But I think we will because it's a Manchester derby, the first ever in a FA Cup final, and we have our fans right there behind us," an optimistic Thornley states while almost not daring to consider the opposite outcome.
“It would be unbearable. The only thing that would be even worse was if it was Liverpool! We really do want to remain the only English team that has done it."
A key figure for United to successfully playing City at Wembley could of course be Marcus Rashford, who's had his most prolific season for some time. A successful campaign brought on by a combination of pre-season work and Ten Hag, according to Thornley.
“It was so noticeable when he came back last summer, how much stronger, fitter and faster he looked compared to previous seasons. That's all down to the coaching and the program he was set to follow during the closed season. And of course, the fact that he followed those instructions closely," says Thornley who expects Rashford to get even better.
First up, though, is the FA Cup-final. The first for Manchester United since 2018 and a chance to win the tournament for the 13th time. But will they?
“Yes, we'll take it by two goals to one," Thornley says on a parting salute. The Red part of Manchester United hopes he's proven right.