FA CUP FINAL PREVIEW: Manchester City bid to make history against Watford at Wembley
Manchester City will head to Wembley on Saturday on the brink of history.
After last weekend’s Premier League title triumph, now only unfancied Watford can prevent Pep Guardiola’s exhilarating side from becoming the first team to win the domestic treble.
Most of the build-up to the FA Cup final will focus on City and their breathtaking achievements in the past two years.
The odds will heavily favour City as they bid to win their fifth major English trophy of the last six available.
It is not a foregone conclusion – after all City suffered FA Cup Wembley heartache when they were stunned by lowly Wigan in the 2013 final.
But City are a club more serene under Guardiola than they were in the chaotic final days of Roberto Mancini’s, admittedly successful, reign six years ago.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss not only advocates slick and attractive football, but demands the highest standards in terms of performance, fitness and attitude.
Whatever celebrations there might have been after City finally saw off Liverpool in a compelling title race on Sunday, Guardiola’s history suggests there will be little loss of focus.
The Spaniard simply does not tolerate complacency and Watford, who finished a distant 48 points behind City in 11th place, are clearly going to have their work cut out.
Despite chasing glory on other fronts, City have taken the FA Cup seriously from the off. They fielded a strong side and thrashed Championship Rotherham 7-0 in the third round and were similarly ruthless against Premier League Burnley, winning 5-0, in round four.
They needed a big slice of luck to see off Swansea in the quarter-finals and the semi-final defeat of Brighton was a grind, but Wembley is the perfect stage to crown a magnificent campaign.
Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero – outstanding all season – will relish the occasion.
Watford, however, will not want to make up the numbers.
Admittedly, recent history is not on their side.
The Hornets have lost all eight of their clashes with City since returning to the top flight, including 6-0 and 5-0 thrashings at Vicarage Road.
There were also FA Cup losses in 2013 and 2014.
But under the tactically astute Javi Gracia, Watford have enjoyed a positive campaign.
Reaching the cup final may have taken the edge off their league form in recent weeks – they lost their last three games to fall out of contention for seventh place – but they are a capable side.
They are defensively strong, while Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure have midfield bite. They also utilise the wings, while Gerard Deulofeu and Troy Deeney are a threat up front.
Watford have not appeared in the FA Cup final since 1984, but after losing to Everton their Wembley appearance is best remembered for the showbiz quality brought to the occasion by Sir Elton John.
For his part, Guardiola was keen for his players to enjoy the moment after clinching the title on Sunday, to add to their League Cup triumph.
But he then stressed that City will quickly refocus on completing that unprecedented domestic treble.
“No team in England have done that before, so we have to challenge, compete and be focused on this game,” said Guardiola, looking ahead to today’s Wembley date with Watford.
“Of course the FA Cup isn’t easy to achieve getting to the final and we are going to go to try to win.”
When asked if Guardiola’s City side will go down as the best in English history, he simply suggested being in the conversation is all anyone can ask.
“When people suggest you can be one of the best, that’s enough,” said Guardiola. “But we had this in Barcelona too.
“If in 10, 15, 20 years people talk about this team, it’s because we were good.
“Like books, movies, if they sustain the passage of time, if after 25 years people are watching the same movie, reading the same book. If people still talk about this team after that time, then it deserves to be considered alongside the best Man United, the best Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Manchester City are unbeaten in their last six games at Wembley in all competitions (W5 D1), conceding just one goal in those matches.
Gerard Deulofeu was the seventh player to score twice in an FA Cup semi-final, and the first since Willian for Chelsea in April 2017 (v Spurs).
Gabriel Jesus has scored 12 goals in 15 appearances in cup competition this season (FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League).
Hornets striker Troy Deeney has scored in both of his FA Cup semi-final appearances – previously doing so against Crystal Palace in April 2016.
City have reached their 11th FA Cup final, and first since 2013 when they eventually lost to Wigan Athletic.
Manchester City have become the ninth different team to reach both major domestic English cup finals within the same season, after Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and Tottenham Hotspur.