Can Man United end FA Cup drought?
Between 1993/94 and 1998/99, at the peak of Manchester United’s powers under Sir Alex Ferguson, the Red Devils graced the FA Cup final four times in the space of six years – claiming three successes.
Since then, in the 16 years that have followed, United have trodden that path just three times.
They have come unstuck on two of those occasions, with their last success coming in 2004 – away from Wembley as they proved far too strong for then-Championship outfit Millwall at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
It is not that the Red Devils have not kept the trophy counter ticking over in that time, they have certainly have done that, but they will be disappointed to have endured such a drought in English football’s most prestigious knockout competition.
Since they last hoisted that particular piece of silverware aloft, United have secured five Premier League titles, three League Cups, five Community Shields and one Champions League triumph.
They remain the most decorated side in the country as a result, but they have been knocked off their perch at the top of the FA Cup pile.
Back-to-back victories for Arsenal in the last two seasons have taken their overall haul to 12, one ahead of their old adversaries from Old Trafford.
Recent history suggests that a hat-trick of successes is unlikely, with no side having managed that in the 20th or 21st centuries, so the door may be open for another outfit to climb those famous steps back onto the top of the podium.
United will be hoping to be in the mix, with two seasons without major silverware – excluding their 2013 Community Shield win – considered to be too long for a club accustomed to tickertape parades and open-top bus rides.
FA Cup betting markets have them placed among the 2015/16 frontrunners, with bet365 pricing them at 8/1 at the time of writing to go all the way.
They will, of course, be relying on the luck of the draw to do them a few favours, with it important to avoid fellow Premier League outfits until momentum has been built.
United had been doing that in the top-flight prior to the international break, sitting top of the table before a disjointed showing in a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal brought them crashing back down to earth.
Louis van Gaal will be aware that he is expected to go well on all fronts this season, even with a return to the Champions League stage added to a gruelling schedule, and will be as determined as anyone to add a silver lining to his reign.
The Dutchman has tasted domestic cup success with previous employers Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, complementing league title triumphs with all of those outfits, along with AZ Alkmaar.
Van Gaal has also spoken in the past of his desire to taste FA Cup glory, quoted in March 2015 as saying: “When you win a title like the FA Cup, which in England is very important, and when you fight for something and you get it, you are pleased.”
It may well be that 2016 is the year to put that smile on his face, scratching a 12-year itch at Old Trafford and putting down a serious marker as United endeavour to reinstate themselves as the dominant force in the English game.