ESPN commentator Jon Champion excitedly unfurls a sheet that would probably be long enough to use as one of the flags ultras wave in the stands. It’s inscribed in black, white, red, and blue, scrawled with information that dates back to the 1880s.

“At the moment, it’s about 100 sheets of paper, with various things written on it. Some of these are old commentary sheets that I’m just stealing information from,” Champion grins. “Some are historical stuff about the FA Cup Final as an event. There’s other information about the Manchester Derby because of that element of things.”

Alongside Jim Beglin, Champion will call the 143rd edition of the FA Cup Final on ESPN+. It’s taken a lot of preparation and hours, evident by Champion’s ability to rattle off historical facts and patterns from the match.

“I spent most of today [Wednesday], all of tomorrow [Thursday], and all of Friday,” he continues. “So, it’s a good three days of solid preparation for a game like this.”

Champion, along with over 15 million people across the world, will tune in for another thrilling edition of the FA Cup Final, pitting Manchester City against United for the second time in a row. Last year, City beat United 2-1 in front of a Wembley crowd of 83,000. This year, the result could be different.

It’s a total contrast of styles and results. City, a ball-dominant squad, just won its fourth straight league title and is looking for a double.

United just finished in its lowest league spot and needs the victory to qualify for European competition. United is also leaning toward sacking manager Erik ten Hag, bringing about another overhaul at the club.

How can City win

The question should be ‘How can City not win?’. This Manchester City squad is arguably one of the strongest dynasties to emerge in English soccer if not all of soccer. Despite a shocking penalty loss in the Champions League quarterfinals to Real, they dominated the Premier League en route to their fourth straight title.

They haven’t lost a game since a defeat at the hands of Aston Villa in December. Although not winning another treble is a disappointment for Pep Guardiola and company, they are still in insane form.

Although they’ll miss Ederson, recovering from a fracture in his eye socket, they still have the underrated Stefan Ortega to fall back on.

“Stefan Ortega made the save that arguably won the Premier League title for Manchester City at Tottenham last week,” Champion says. “That was when Son went through one-on-one after Ortega went on for the injured Ederson. I think that Ortega is an outstanding goalkeeper in his own right.”

Ortega not only steered City to a tense matchweek 38 victory. He was an instrumental force in City’s 2023 FA Cup Final victory.

City’s back four is padded with talent. Ruben Dias and Manuel Akanji make up a steady center-back pairing that defends well and can build out of the back. Josko Gvardiol and Kyle Walker are two hard-nosed wingbacks who can underlap into the midfield and dribble their way into the final third.

City’s midfield three often changes, but it’s usually Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden who start in the midfield slots. Rodri is one of the best defensive midfielders currently playing thanks to his vision, crossing, rare striking ability and solid tackling.

Phil Foden can alternate between winger and attacking midfielder. He’s in superb form this season, scoring 27 goals and 11 assists in 52 games to claim Premier League Player of the Season. Kevin De Bruyne is a precise passer whose creativity allows him to dominate the midfield from several different positions. Pundits have rated the Belgian as the ‘greatest midfielder the Premier League has ever seen.’

City’s attack terrorized defenses this season. Bernardo Silva’s intelligence and remarkable technicality, compounded with his versatility, make him one of the best players in the Premier League right now. Jeremy Doku, a pacy winger who can blitz past wingbacks, is another offensive threat. The head of the jewel is Erling Haaland, a target forward who presses hard and finishes a lot of the chances created by City.

“Manchester City are as good as an attacking force English football has seen in modern times. I don’t see a particular problem for them,” Champion says. “I see them starting as particularly strong favorites.”

How can United win

A struggling United squad still has a fair chance of beating their Manchester rivals. Despite the complicated future of manager Erik ten Hag, United is still rich in talent. The Red Devils also have more to play for than City. After finishing eighth in the Premier League, a victory will be United’s only chance of a Europa League berth.

After struggles with form and errors, Cameroonian keeper Andre Onana is back to the avant-garde stopper United signed from Inter last year.

“I arrived as the best goalkeeper in the world and ‘boom’ it went down. It was like ‘What happened?’,” Onana told the BBC. His distribution and calmness improved after returning from AFCON. “But that is how difficult football is sometimes. It depends if you want to stay down there or stand up and fight. I know what I did to arrive here, and I know who I am. I decided to stand up and fight.”

Center-back Harry Maguire will miss the FA Cup Final with a muscle injury, so Lisandro Martinez and Raphaël Varane will likely start on Saturday. Diogo Dalot, who figures to be a key member in Portugal’s Euro conquest, partners with the in-form Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the wing.

Ten Hag could field a double pivot against City. Breakout star Kobbie Mainoo should see a start, while one of Sofyan Amrabat or Casemiro will make an appearance. On the wings, the electric Alejandro Garnacho will see a start, while Amad Diallo could sneak into the starting eleven.

The biggest question for United in this FA Cup Final is where the goals will come from. The typically consistent Marcus Rashford is struggling immensely with form, while the team fielded Bruno Fernandes as a false nine and Scott McTominay as a makeshift second striker. Could Rasmus Højlund earn a start over the three?

One thing that we do know is that United will be on the back foot. Under Ten Hag, United looks to counter-attack often and score in transition. They drop deep in a low block, waiting for a clumsy mistake or panic from the press. They then strike off the counter, using their numbers advantage to convert. It’s how they get most of their goals. They do a decent job of building up an attack in possession.

“I don’t see how they can dominate possession against a Manchester City team that is so good at keeping the ball. I think Manchester United are going to have to feed on scraps. They’re going to spend a lot of time chasing. A lot of time without the ball,” Champion says.

“They’re going to need to keep their discipline and then hope that in a particular given moment, there’s a chance to counterattack. That’s where players like Bruno Fernandes and Garnacho become very important to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team they put out isn’t similar to what they put out in their final league game at Brighton. They actually started without a proper out-and-out striker and played Bruno Fernandes as a false number nine. Højlund and Rashford were on the bench.”

They will be the ones defending and hustling for loose scraps for an overwhelming majority of the time.

“It’s a question of whether they’ve celebrated the Premier League title too vigorously over the past few days. Maybe, they’re a couple of degrees under not quite at their best,” Champion tells WST. “Perhaps Manchester United can find something inspired from deep within. I think that’s what it’s going to take for Manchester United to get the better of Manchester City in this final.”

What this game looks like

City will be the heavy favorite to claim their eighth FA Cup title. It is healthy and still in amazing form coming off their Premier League title. City also has the strongest team in the world on paper. Not to mention City won the last three games against United, and the blue side of Manchester is 7-0-3 in its last ten games.

But this United squad shouldn’t be taken lightly. Despite finishing outside the top six this season, United still have a lot of talent and depth on their squad. They’ve been riddled with poor form and injuries this season. But, with ten Hag’s pesky playstyle, all it can take is one goal from the Red Devils to give them their 13th FA Cup title.

However, Ten Hag will not be staying at United, regardless of win or loss in the FA Cup Final. Sources told The Guardian that winning United’s first FA Cup since 2016 would not save him from the sack.

Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino, and Kieran McKenna are potential candidates to take the hot seat at Old Trafford.