click to go to homepage
A designed image of three Chelsea and three United players standing next to the Emirates FA Cup

The FA Cup final: Why the midfield battle is crucial

Former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen has offered his unique insights into the Emirates FA Cup final, paying particular attention to the intriguing midfield battle ahead.

The Dutch tactician worked closely with Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford and he became renowned for his intricate work on the training ground, which is why we sat him down this week to assess and analyse the key figures in Saturday’s showpiece event at Wembley Stadium. 

Here’s what he said on MUTV about the three central midfielders who started the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur…

Nemanja Matic waves to the fans
“I have been very impressed and I still can't believe Chelsea let him go," said Rene of Matic
“I have been very impressed and I still can't believe Chelsea let him go, because you need those players to anchor the midfield, give you that defensive balance, read the danger and make sure the game doesn't open up. He has obviously settled in really well and has played so many games. He is a good passer of the ball. I’d say he can sometimes release the ball a bit quicker, but that is all part of his development and the way United want to play. He has been very, very instrumental this season.”
Ander Herrera and Jose Mourinho during the Emirates FA Cup semi-final at Wembley
Ander Herrera was excellent in the FA Cup semi-final and looks set to start against Chelsea
“I like to see him in the format with Pogba and Matic. Matic is more of a holding midfielder who makes sure that everything stays in balance and Paul likes to drift forward a little bit more. Ander is really an ant-like player. He is very tenacious, he gets up to players, he does his defensive job, but you cannot dismiss his qualities going forward as well. He had an excellent game in the semi-final. With those three players, you have a fantastic balance in the midfield and, a lot of times, that is the most important area of the pitch where the game is won and lost.”
Paul Pogba in action at Old Trafford
Meulensteen was a coach at United when Pogba was rising through the ranks of the Academy
“Paul is physically strong, skilful and quick. There are still a few aspects of the game he needs to tidy up but over time he will get better and better. He makes those deep runs into the box and he has got the ability to score goals, which is so important to his game. Now we want to see him do it week in and week out, which only comes with experience, gaining confidence and belief. He had an unbelievable spell at Juventus and he is now back here. We want to see Paul grow into the player that we all know he can become. He has scored some important goals and every player wants to be on this stage. Paul is no different and, when he's on form, he can make a really big difference.”
Chris Smalling tussles with Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas
Rene has identified Fabregas as the man to stop in Chelsea's midfield


The basis of their starting XI is still unknown, of course, but Rene feels ex-Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas is the man to stop…

“Chelsea like to break quickly and through the lines. Fabregas is the key in his passing and the forwards know that. The moment Fabregas turns and looks ahead, the forward players are on their bikes as he can hit a forward pass. He is like Paul Scholes. He has that creative mind, he gets the ball going forward with quality, with little through passes, or sometimes he just holds on to it. He played for Arsenal for many years and there was a clear link with Robin van Persie at that time. We basically stopped the ball going in to Fabregas and that was the key, so other players had to make decisions that they weren't used to. It's about killing it at the source.”

Is this the XI to face Chelsea?Video