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Manchester City v Watford: Match Preview
Fresh from becoming the first side in 10 years to retain the Premier League title, City now turn their attentions to Watford and Wembley as they bid to add a third piece of silverware to further decorate their brilliant season.
Win, and they would become the first men's team ever to claim a domestic treble of the Premier League, League Cup and FA Cup.
City have been outstanding again this campaign, seeing off the challenge of Liverpool to finish just two points shy of the record-setting tally they won the league with last season.
Pep Guardiola’s men had already retained the Carabao Cup via a penalty-shootout victory over Chelsea at Wembley back in February.
Now Watford stand in the way of the Spaniard’s fifth major trophy in three seasons in Manchester.
City’s FA Cup opponents have been favourable up to this point but their path to the final has been far from straightforward.
After destroying Rotherham 7-0 in the third round and thrashing Burnley 5-0 in the fourth, City were made to work hard for their 4-1 win at League Two Newport County with two late goals adding gloss to the scoreline.
Eventually City’s relentless attacks paid off when Bernardo Silva pegged the Swans back in the 69th minute.
What followed was a comeback tinged with controversy when City were awarded a disputed penalty that saw Sergio Aguero’s effort rebound off Kristoffer Nordfeldt.
The Argentine then saw off the Swans himself with a late headed winner to send City through to the semis despite standing in an offside position from the cross.
The theme continued in the semi-finals against Brighton when Kyle Walker escaped without a red card despite thrusting his head into Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s head after a VAR review. City were relieved to emerge with a 1-0 win thanks to Gabriel Jesus’ stooping header.
So after an arduous journey to their first FA Cup final since defeat to Wigan in 2013, five-time winners City will not be taking their opponents lightly.
Nevertheless City have been utterly dominant against Watford in their recent clashes, winning 10 of their last 10 matches including 5-0 and 6-0 pastings at Vicarage Road.
And City’s top marksman Aguero has been involved in 12 goals in just seven career appearances against Watford, scoring 10 and assisting twice including two separate hat-tricks.
In total City have not lost to Watford since a 1989 First Division match and defeated the Hornets in consecutive FA Cup third-round matches in 2013 and 2014.
Watford themselves have never won the world’s oldest football competition, reaching the final in 1984 before defeat to Everton.
But Watford have enjoyed a fantastic season under the stewardship Javi Gracia and the Spaniard will be busy plotting an upset at Wembley.
Win and Watford would become the first side ever to finish in the bottom half and beat the champions of England in an FA Cup final.
Guardiola himself described Gracia as an “incredible” coach before City’s visit to Vicarage Road earlier this campaign.
“They have everything, incredibly organised, the manager is incredible, what he's done,” the City coach enthused. "They have physicality, quality one on one, they are strong in the air, well organised. They have a lot of points.”
It’s a point worth emphasising. Watford have scored 12 Premier League goals from set pieces this season (excluding penalties) and in total that figure accounts for a quarter of their goals. In comparison just 15.8% of City’s 95 goals have come from the dead ball.
In Troy Deeney and Andre Gray, Watford possess two players capable of hurting any team in the air and Guardiola has been open about City’s soft underbelly from aerial crosses into the box.
It’s a weakness illustrated by Glenn Murray’s opener for Brighton on the final day, headed home after leaping above City’s defence to briefly threaten Guardiola’s title hopes.
And it’s why Watford were so relieved to have Jose Holebas’ red card against West Ham on the final day overturned, the left back is among the deadliest set-piece takers in the division.
Gracia’s men have managed to avoid any of the big boys on the way to the final but had to navigate past Premier League opposition three times including a dramatic 3-2 win over Wolves.
That result saw Watford recover from two goals down in a Wembley thriller. Gerard Deulofeu pulled one back with 11 minutes to go before club legend Deeney thrashed in a penalty to send the tie to extra time.
In the additional period, Deulofeu scampered clear and tucked his shot past John Ruddy to send Watford through to just their second FA Cup final in 121 years of existence.
While Watford are comfortably outmatched on paper by a City squad laden with world-class talent, Gracia can call upon the mercurial talents of Deulofeu.
The ex-Barcelona forward impressed in the second half of the season, with nine goals in his final 13 matches in all competitions and can hurt top opposition with his dribbling. He scored Watford’s consolation in their 3-1 defeat by City in March.
His partner in midfield Roberto Pereyra is a classy operator and up front an emotionally-charged Deeney will give any centre-back pairing a tough afternoon’s work.
It represents a thrilling final in prospect as City chase history and look to win the world’s oldest club competition at Wembley as Watford bid to lift the FA Cup for the very first time.
Manchester City v Watford: Manager Quotes
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on his team becoming the first to win the domestic treble: “Men’s. The first time in men’s [football],” Guardiola said.“The women have won it.” [Arsenal woman in 1993].
"Watford and Wolves are the best teams outside of the top six.
"They were consistent teams, Everton were up and down, Leicester finished incredibly well under Brendan Rodgers. Watford with Javi Gracia, he is an experienced manager from working in other countries and I think he is an excellent guy, and excellent manager and knows exactly what to do.
"They have huge talent up front, many physical players, good on set pieces and this is a final, we know what can happen. We believe a lot in ourselves and we will have to find the antidote to beat them."
"It is a cup final, anything can happen like a red card. They can prepare the final better, they can make a strategy we did not expect. In one game, anything can happen.
"Normally the better team wins, but a decision of the referee could make the difference. In the Premier League you have another chance and can be more relaxed, but this is completely different."
On maintaining the hunger for success: "Every player has to feel they must play well or they won't play. They have to feel they must win again or they will have problems, they are in trouble and won't be here any longer."
"We have to win again and again and again," he said. "It has been incredible. But from the first day of next season, we start from zero."
On Vincent Kompany: "Vinny has shown again what he is able to do when he is fit," said Guardiola. "It is top. When he is fit he is incredible.
"The problem is the period between November and February and March."
Watford manager Javi Gracia: “I know perfectly it is an important day, it is an important game. I would like to make history with the club — and to do it we need to win.
“After that we will see if we play another final next season or not, but this is the moment. It is our moment and we have to feel it. I am sure the players know it and they will be ready to give their best.”
"I think they're the best team in the Premier League but not in the world because their results speak about that. They won the Premier League and they deserve that recognition. The best in the world? We'll see."
On whether Guardiola is the best coach in the world: "The best in the Premier League, yes. Yesterday I was at the LMA dinner and I think he deserves that recognition as well.
"To speak about the best in the world, there are many very good managers and there are different opinions about that.
"If you only speak about the results, you have to say the team who wins is the best."
Manchester City v Watford: Team News
For City, Ilkay Gundogan will likely continue to deputise for Fernandinho in the midfield pivot. Fernandinho trained on Thursday and Friday but is expected to be named among the substitutes.
Kevin De Bruyne is pushing for a place in Guardiola's starting XI after returning to action with a 10-minute cameo against Brighton. Riyad Mahrez could drop out of the side to accomodate the returning Belgian.
Gracia will be able to call upon his strongest team after Jose Holebas' red card on the final day of the season against West Ham was overturned.
Etienne Capoue returned for the defeat to the Hammers last Sunday and is expected to play at Wembley.
Captain Deeney is set to lead the line for Watford, who are on a run of six matches without victory heading into the final.
Manchester City v Watford: Head-to-head
It's fair to say Manchester City have had it all their own way in recent clashes with Watford. The Citizens have won their last 10 games against the Hornets and have not lost a match to them since 1989. Previous five meetings:
|09/03/19||Premier League||Man City 3-1 Watford||Sterling (3); Deulofeu|
|04/12/18||Premier League||Watford 1-2 Man City||Doucoure; Sane, Mahrez|
|02/01/18||Premier League||Man City 3-1 Watford||Sterling, Kabasele OG, Aguero; Gray|
|16/09/17||Premier League||Watford 0-6 Man City||Aguero (3), Jesus, Otamendi, Sterling (pen)|
|21/05/17||Premier League||Watford 0-5 Man City||Kompany, Aguero (2), Fernandinho, Jesus|
Manchester City v Watford: Key Stats
- Manchester City could become the first team to win the domestic treble in England, having already won the Premier League title and League Cup this season.
- Manchester City are looking to become just the fourth team to win both major domestic cup competitions in the same season, after Arsenal in 1992-93, Liverpool in 2000-01 and Chelsea in 2006-07.
- This will be Manchester City’s 11th appearance in an FA Cup final and their first since 2013, when they lost 0-1 to Wigan. They’ve won the competition five times (1904, 1934, 1956, 1969 and 2011).
- Watford’s only previous FA Cup final appearance came in 1984 under manager Graham Taylor, losing 0-2 to Everton at Wembley.
- Watford’s 35-year wait for a second FA Cup final appearance is the longest since 1967, when Chelsea appeared in their second final 52 years after first featuring in 1915.
- No team to finish in the bottom half of the top-flight table has ever beaten the side to finish top in an FA Cup final – the previous lowest was in 1957, when 10th placed Aston Villa beat champions Manchester United.
- Man City have eliminated Watford from the FA Cup in each of their previous three ties, winning 3-1 in 1996-97, 3-0 in 2012-13 and 4-2 in 2013-14; Watford’s only elimination of City in the FA Cup was in the 1985-86 season in the fourth round.
- Watford have lost their last 10 matches against Manchester City in all competitions, conceding 32 goals in those games. They are winless in 15 games against the Citizens (W0 D2 L13) since a 1-0 win in March 1989 in the second tier.
- Gerard Deulofeu is Watford’s highest scorer in all competitions this season (12). Nine of his 12 goals this season have come in his last 13 games, with the Spaniard scoring Watford’s winner in their semi-final victory against Wolves.
- Sergio Aguero has been involved in 12 goals in just seven appearances against Watford for Manchester City in all competitions (10 goals, 2 assists), including two hat-tricks – one of which was in a 4-2 FA Cup win in January 2014.
- Sergio Aguero has scored 32 goals in all competitions for Man City this season – only in 2016-17 (33) has he scored more in a single campaign for the Citizens.
- Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Man City striker Sergio Aguero has scored 18 FA Cup goals – three more than any other player; the Argentinian has scored in every round he’s played in barring the final, failing to score in the 2013 final against Wigan.
- This will be the first FA Cup final between two managers of the same nationality since 2008 (Dave Jones and Harry Redknapp). It’s only the second time it’s happened when the managers aren’t British, with the other being in 2001 between Frenchmen Arsene Wenger and Gerard Houllier.
- Either Pep Guardiola or Javier Gracia will become the third Spanish manager to win the FA Cup, after Rafael Benitez (2006, Liverpool) and Roberto Martinez (2013, Wigan).
Manchester City v Watford: Match Odds
Man City: 1/5
All odds correct with bet365 at time of writing