Manchester City v Watford
Emirates FA Cup final
Saturday 18th May, Wembley Stadium, kick off 5pm
by John Spillane
Saturday brings together two sides with Spanish coaches; one is the current Premier league champions and five times FA Cup winners, in search of their fourth trophy of the season, and their opponents who are still seeking a first major honour in their 121 year history. However as this is the FA Cup overwhelming favourites Manchester City will be taking nothing for granted with the last minute defeat to relegated Wigan Athletic in 2013 a reminder of what can happen on any given day. The 10 places and 48 point gap which separated the two in the league means little and can be put to one side for the day.
Pep Guardiola's side route to the final has seen them outscore opponents 20-3. Following straightforward home wins over Rotherham 7-0 and Burnley 5-0 and a 4-1 victory at Newport in the fifth round, they had to dig deep to overcome Swansea City. Recovering from being 2-0 behind after 29 minutes they took advantage of some favourable refereeing decisions before coming through 3-2 and faced Brighton in the semi final. An early Gabriel Jesus goal after four minutes should have just been the start but although they were never seriously in danger this type of hard fought win became a trend in the remaining weeks of the season, especially in the league as they went on to retain the title.
Watford's journey to the final has been a lower scoring affair with a record of 10-3. Starting with three successive away trips they overcame Woking and Newcastle 2-0, prior to a 1-0 Friday night success at QPR in the fifth round courtesy of an Etienne Capoue strike. Capoue again scored in the 2-1 quarter final home win over Crystal Palace, which set them up for a semi final with Wolves. With 11 minutes to go and two goals down the chances of getting back to the Cup final for the first time since 1984 seemed far fetched. Step forward substitute Gerard Deulofeu to change everything with a remarkable strike and they were back in the game. A last minute Troy Deeney penalty sent the tie to extra time before Deulofeu hit what proved to be the winning goal.
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City's expectations have become so high in recent times that the opportunity to win a unique domestic treble, though something to celebrate may still be something of a disappointment. Success in Europe is the aim. Even becoming just the eighth club to have completed the league and FA Cup double in 131 years, last achieved by Chelsea in the season 2009-10, will be seen as an appetiser for their next Champions league assault, whenever that might be as they face sanctions for falling foul of Financial Fair Play regulations.
Watford in recent years have invoked a new model with mid table stability in the Premier league going hand in hand with instability in the coaching department. Since 2015 the route has been filled by Quique Sanchez Flores, Walter Mazzari and Marco Silva, before the current incumbent Javi Gracia took over in January 2018. The cycle of good start to the season followed by a dip in form once their Premier league status has been all but secured has been repeated. Their last nine games brought just two wins over relegated sides Huddersfield and Fulham (W2, D1, L6). Gracia has called the final the biggest game of his career and has recently had his name linked with a role at Chelsea.
In their league encounters this season City won 3-1 (H) and 2-1 at Vicarage Road. Furthermore in their 12 games against the top six Watford's record was W1, L11 with a home victory over Tottenham their only success. City as ever are likely to see a high percentage of the ball and Watford will look to keep things tight and expose any defensive weaknesses at set pieces.
Following their league success last week it will be interesting to see how City approach this match. The last few months of the season were played almost with the handbrake on, knowing that in pursuit of Liverpool any mistake could be crucial. Earlier in the season they played a more open, expansive game and would look to start matches on the front foot and then press home the advantage. As opponents were forced to come out from their planned defensive set up City would start to pick them off. Watford will look to their midfield duo of Abdoulaye Doucoure and Capoue to disrupt the flow by controlling the space in front of their defence in an attempt to frustrate City. The hope will be that the likes of Will Hughes, Gerard Deulofeu and captain Troy Deeney make the most of limited opportunities that will come their way.
With a recent record of winning the last eight encounters between the two, on an aggregate score line of 25-4, anything other than a further celebration for City would be a major surprise.
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