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How to win the FA Cup
As United's campaign to win the FA Cup continues, we reveal the blueprint for what the Red Devils need to go all the way...

1. Finish in the league's top three the previous season

Current league form is not always a reliable barometer for FA Cup fortunes; the Reds have won the cup five times during seasons in which we finished outside the league’s top three. United have twice won the competition while lying 13th in the table (1909 and 1990) while in 1963, during Matt Busby’s rebuilding era, we pulled off an even more unlikely triumph, beating Leicester at Wembley after finishing 19th – just above the relegation zone. Curiously, what the Reds do in the league the year before seems to be a more accurate indicator of our cup prospects: eight of United’s 11 FA Cup wins came after a top three finish in the previous season (1909, 1948, 1977, 1983, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004).

2. Reach the semi-final, go a goal down

Such is United’s recent record in FA Cup semi-finals, a place in the last four is the next best thing to a ticket for the final. How about this for a fact: since 1970, when we lost to Leeds, the Reds have played 13 semi's and won them all. That’s right, the lot! In six of those 13, United have been a goal down before recovering to win (Liverpool 1979 and 1985, Arsenal 1983, Oldham 1990 and 1994, and Chelsea 1996). Moreover, after coming from behind to win the semi, United have gone on to win the final on five out of six occasions.

3. Bring Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes out of retirement

Robbo, who led United to wins in 1983, 1985 and 1990, is one of only two men since the 1800s to have skippered three FA Cup-winning teams (the other is Tony Adams). Hughes also won the cup three times with United (1985, 1990, 1994) but lost a fourth final to Everton in 1995, his last game for the Reds. The pair bagged 27 FA Cup goals between them for United, with both players scoring in two finals (Robson in 1983 and 1990, and Hughes in 1990 and 1994). Perhaps their most memorable contribution came in the 1985 semi-final replay versus Liverpool at Maine Road. After trailing 1-0 at half-time, goals from Robson and Hughes inspired a secondhalf comeback that ran Liverpool’s Wembley bandwagon off the road and punctured the party balloons of 10,000 prematurely celebrating Scousers.

4. Include two family members in your starting line-up

As a criterion for United’s scouting policy this may prove pretty impractical to enforce, but it certainly seems to work in the FA Cup. Sibling harmony first inspired the Reds in 1977 when the brothers Greenhoff, Brian and Jimmy, both appeared in Tommy Docherty’s starting line-up in the 2-1 Wembley win over Liverpool. In more recent times, of course, the Neville brothers have kept up the family tradition. They appeared together in the 1996 (Gary came on for David Beckham in the last minute) and 1999 final victories. Could a bid for Anton Ferdinand be in the pipeline?

5. Play every round away from home, preferably on a Sunday

This may not seem the most likely of scenarios, probably because it's only happened once. In 1990, with Alex Ferguson yet to land his first trophy at Old Trafford, the Reds were drawn away to Nottingham Forest in the third round where, thanks to a now-legendary nod of Mark Robins’ bubble-permed bonce, we won 1-0. Victories against Hereford, Newcastle and Sheffield United (all these matches were played away from home on a Sunday) subsequently saw us through to a semi versus Oldham that, with further assistance from Robins, was successfully negotiated at the second attempt. Two games were also required to settle the final, but again it was United who eventually triumphed, Lee Martin’s goal seeing off Crystal Palace’s rough-house resistance in the replay.

What’s also interesting is that although 1990’s cup run is the only occasion in which the Reds have been drawn away from home in every round on the way to a final, United have twice gone all the way to Wembley after meeting only top-flight opposition in the competition (1948 and 2007). Aston Villa, Tottenham... could they do it again this year?
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