'Where has this Man Utd team been all season?'

Alan Shearer's column
[BBC Sport]

Where has this Manchester United team been all season?

That's the question you have to ask after seeing such a magnificent performance from Erik ten Hag's side to win Saturday's FA Cup final.

For large parts of this campaign, the kind of resilience, desire, discipline and work-rate that United showed to beat Manchester City at Wembley has been missing.

I saw a team out there with every player on the same page, all battling and fighting for each other, not just showing great ability but showing the desire to win every tackle.

As I said to Ten Hag when he spoke to us on the pitch after the game, that has not always been the case when I've watched United this season. If they had played like that every week, they would not have finished eighth in the Premier League.

Ten Hag puts his side's poor performances down to injuries, but every team has had plenty of those this season.

I know United have been hit particularly hard at the back, where they have used 15 different centre-half partnerships in 52 games in 2023-24, but there is more to it than that.

Even when a team is missing injured players they still have to go out and give everything but there have been many occasions when there has not been the right body language or attitude from United's players, which is why they have sometimes been criticised for a lack of effort.

Not on Saturday, though. They were almost perfect, even when the going got tough in the second half. They stuck together and got through it because they did the dirty work as well as the pretty stuff really well.

United players need to produce this every week

I said before the game that this was a big chance for United to give their fans something back at the end of a poor season, and they certainly did that.

They were the better team, they thoroughly deserved to win, and the result was no fluke. Ten Hag played a blinder with his gameplan and his players executed it perfectly.

United were right at it from the off. They did not allow City to play their normal game, gave nothing away, closed them down and forced them into errors. Then, when they could, they hit them on the break and the way they switched play when they did that, particularly in the first half, was superb.

We do not know if Ten Hag will still be Manchester United manager next season but, whoever is in charge, the important thing is the players need to produce that kind of effort and unity week in, week out. They cannot just save it for the biggest occasions.

You could feel Ten Hag's frustration about repeatedly being asked about his future and whether this would be his final game.

It was a constant in the build-up, particularly this week and even just before kick-off.

On the morning of the biggest game of the season for him and his team, he was being constantly asked about his future, or rather the speculation that his future had been decided and someone else was getting his job.

That might well turn out to be the case. But, as I said before the final, from a human point of view, it is disrespectful of the club's owners to treat someone this way and who, at the very least, is giving his all in his job and now won two trophies in two seasons.

It is not as if he has not given everything to try to turn things around.

If United were going to keep Ten Hag on, I am sure they would have come out and said that at some stage before the FA Cup final. Instead, the silence has been deafening, and I think that is pretty telling.

At the same time, I do understand why Ten Hag's future is in doubt because of how bad large parts of this season have been.

Manchester United are one of the biggest clubs in the world and it is not acceptable for them to finish eighth, or go out of the Champions League in the group stage the way they did.

When you look at their defensive statistics and the number of shots they have faced per game – at an average of 17.6, only Sheffield United have faced more from the 96 clubs in the top divisions of Europe's top five leagues – then you can see they are miles away from where they need to be on a consistent basis.

This performance gives their fans something to celebrate, at least, but we don't know what is going to happen next with United, and whether this is the start of something bigger or just the end for Ten Hag. If it is the latter, then what a way to sign off.

City are still the team to beat

In contrast with the uncertainty around United, we know Pep Guardiola will be back to try to win more trophies with City next season.

I did not agree with Pep's comments after the game that City were the better team on Saturday, because they were not. They did not play well at all, and they were a long way below their best – and the best team won.

City have had another excellent season, doing what no English side has ever done in the 136-year history of league football in this country, by winning four top-flight titles in a row.

They will also get to show off the World Club Cup and Uefa Super Cup, as well as the Premier League trophy, on their parade in Manchester on Sunday, but there will obviously be a tinge of disappointment they have not kept hold of the FA Cup too, especially after the way they lost this game.

We don't say it too often but virtually all of their star attackers were quiet against United. Jeremy Doku was their best player when he came on for the second half, but no-one else really impressed me for City.

It shows even the very best teams and players have off days, because they just did not play well - although we need to give a lot of credit to United for stifling them.

Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.