Football / FA Cup Final: United possess the power for more glory: Free-ranging Peacock presents chief danger as champions prepare to strut their stuff in search of Double. Joe Lovejoy reports

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The Independent Online
GLENN HODDLE is better connected than most when it comes to divining the future, but the Chelsea player-manager fell off his pew when his prayers were answered in the FA Cup.

Hoddle said back in December that if they drew his brother's team, Barnet, in the third round, it would be Chelsea's year. 'Glenda' was gobsmacked when the famous velvet bag yielded the numbered balls just so, but nothing that has happened since has surprised him in the least.

His luck has held throughout the tournament, and Chelsea take on Manchester United at Wembley today having had to play only one Premiership side, Sheffield Wednesday, to United's four. Hoddle arrives convinced that his hour is at hand - a conviction buttressed by home and away wins against the champions in the League.

United, of course, see it all rather differently, talking of their own appointment with destiny. For them, victory would round off the latest chapter in the club's glamorous history, giving them the classic Double for the first time and equalling Tottenham's record eight Cup wins.

Logic - admittedly an unreliable guide in knock-out competition - insists the best team in the country will prevail. Even the fact that Chelsea have beaten them twice can be seen to work in United's favour, giving the champions what Alex Ferguson calls an extra 'edge'. They also take comfort in the knowledge that lightning, or rather Gavin Peacock, is unlikely to strike thrice in the same place.

Chelsea are expected to approach their first FA Cup final since 1970 in the same cagey way they went to Old Trafford in March, when they used Eddie Newton as an interceptor, just in front of their back four, to curb Eric Cantona's infiltrations from deep and counter the Frenchman's clever distribution.

Without the panoramic vision and sublime passing of Hoddle, who will be on the bench, the harrying game suits Chelsea best, with Dennis Wise the most persistent of midfield hornets - flitting, stinging and forever coming back for more.

For the form book to be ridiculed again, Newton needs to subdue Cantona, Wise will have to outrun Paul Ince and David, in the diminutive shape of Mark Stein, John Spencer and Peacock, must get the better of the Goliaths at the heart of United's defence. Stein, returning after injury, scored twice to relegate Sheffield United last Saturday, but the manager of the year has identified Peacock as the main threat.

Raiding from the so-called 'hole', just behind the two strikers, Peacock was the match-winner in both the League games - as he was when he tucked away two smartly executed goals in the semi- final against Luton Town.

'He has done very well for them,' Ferguson said. 'Dealing with his runs from deep is something we've been discussing.'

United will look to pick him up and pick him off early, before he gets within striking range, but prefer to dwell on the potential match-winners in their own side. They are not short of subject matter. Their strongest suit is the breadth and variety of their attack, where they are blessed with the startling pace of Andrei Kanchelskis, Ryan Giggs's mesmeric magic on the ball, the shimmering subtlety of Cantona and a coiled spring of a centre-forward in Mark Hughes.

There's more. If the forwards fail to deliver, someone else usually will. Every outfield player bar Paul Parker has scored this season, and no fewer than 10 have contributed five or more. One hundred and twenty-two goals in all. Impressive stuff.

It is a credit to Hoddle and his coach, Peter Shreeves, that Chelsea have managed to shut them out twice, but doubts persist about a defence that conceded more than the team scored in the League, and it is difficult to envisage the most explosive forward line in the country damp-squibbing again.

Chelsea will take heart from those two 1-0 wins, the memory of how close Oldham Athletic came to eliminating United in the semi- finals and Peter Schmeichel's recent fallibility, but history beckons, and the power of prayer may not be enough this time.

It looks like a United Double. Two-nil.

PATHS TO FINAL

CHELSEA

3rd rd: Barnet (a) 0-0 (Stamford Bridge)

Replay: Barnet (h) 4-0 (Burley 29, Peacock 44, Stein 48, Shipperley 76)

4th rd: Sheffield Wed (h) 1-1 (Peacock 14)

Replay: Sheffield Wed (a) 3-1 aet (Spencer 7, Peacock 96, Burley 115)

5th rd: Oxford (a) 2-1 (Spencer 22, Burley 30)

6th rd: Wolves (h) 1-0 (Peacock 58)

Semi-final: Luton (Wem) 2-0 (Peacock 13, 47)

MANCHESTER UNITED

3rd rd: Sheffield U (a) 1-0 (Hughes 62)

4th rd: Norwich (a) 2-0 (Keane 18, Cantona 73)

5th rd: Wimbledon (a) 3-0 (Cantona 42, Ince 63, Irwin 71)

6th rd: Charlton (h) 3-1 (Hughes 46, Kanchel skis 71, 75)

Semi-final: Oldham (Wem) 1-1 (Hughes 119)

Replay: Oldham (Maine Road) 4-1 (Irwin 9, Kanchelskis 15, Robson 62, Giggs 68)

Play-off preview, Deportivo's destiny, page 55

Diary, page 54

(Graphic omitted)

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