After surprising everybody on their route to the final, Javi Gracia’s Watford face the toughest task of their season at the last stage. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City battled pressure all the way from Liverpool to secure the Premier League title for the second season running and, earlier in the season, beat Chelsea in a penalty shoot-out to secure the Carabao Cup. A win for Gracia’s side would see them prevent a stunning domestic treble for City, which would be the first time ever for a men’s team, and it would be just the second time in 31 years that a new side has lifted the cup.
Javi Gracia’s Watford Can Prevent Manchester City Domestic Treble
Watford’s semi-final hero, Gerard Deulofeu, has recovered from a dead leg that he suffered against West Ham United. After being left on the bench initially against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the last round, Deulofeu is expected to start, according to BBC Sport, after his double inspired the Hornets to win 3-2 against Wolves.
Gracia will also have defender Jose Holebas available for selection. The Greek was sent off in the final day loss against the Hammers, but a quick appeal saw the decision rescinded by the FA and made Holebas available.
For City, Kevin de Bruyne is in contention after coming off the bench against Brighton & Hove Albion. Fernandinho is also fit but defender Benjamin Mendy will miss out through injury.
Route to the Final
The Citizens joined the competition at the third round stage in January and stormed to success straight away. Seven different players (including an own goal from Semi Ajayi) found the net as City ran riot to win 7-0 against Rotherham United.
They added a further five to their FA Cup tally in round four as, once again, all different scorers netted in a 5-0 success against Burnley.
Guardiola’s side were then given a scare by League Two minnows Newport County. Leroy Sane and Phil Foden looked to have them on course for a comfortable victory before Padraig Amond popped up to half the deficit. However, another Foden goal and a fourth from Riyad Mahrez late on saw them safely into the quarter-finals.
City faced another South Wales side in Swansea City and, again, were left worried. The Swans led 2-0 at the break courtesy of Matt Grimes and Bersant Celina. However, Bernardo Silva, a Kristoffer Nordfeldt own goal and Aguero’s late winner completed the turn-around.
Finally, Gabriel Jesus scored the only goal of the game in the semi-final after just four minutes as City overcame league counterparts, Brighton.
Only one of the Hornets’ FA Cup games this season has been played at their home ground of Vicarage Road. This signals just how well they’ve done to make it to this stage.
Unlike Manchester City, who started in their 55,000-capacity ground, Watford’s run began in the 6,036-capacity Kingfield Stadium, home to non-league Woking. Will Hughes and Troy Deeney scored in either half to safely take Watford through and avoid a damaging exit.
Another 2-0 win ensued in round four, this time with Andre Gray and Isaac Success on the scoresheet as Newcastle United fell victim to Watford’s run.
Championship outfit Queens Park Rangers were the next to host the Hornets but they too were unable to score. Etienne Capoue‘s strike on the brink of half-time was enough.
Capoue was on target again in the quarter-final against Crystal Palace as Watford came out 2-1 winners, which set up the Wembley meeting with Wolves.
Matt Doherty and Raul Jiminez looked to have the newly-promoted side on course for the final. However, the Hornets showed their resolve and produced one of the most exciting comebacks in the history of the FA Cup.
Deulofeu’s stunner got them back in it before a stoppage-time Deeney penalty ensured extra-time. Spaniard Deulofeu then raced through on the cusp of half-time in the additional period and slotted past John Ruddy.
Any chance of Watford winning this game will surely rest on whether they can prevent City from finding the net. They’ll be without the ball for much of the game and will be under constant, relentless pressure from City.
One side that famously did that was Wigan Athletic in the 2013 final. Ben Watson‘s late header secured a memorable win over City. Even though Watford are, on paper, a significantly better side than the Latics team that produced the stunning win, City’s improvement since then is undoubted too. Watford will need to produce something of equally-stunning magnitude to win this.
Unfortunately, City are a machine under Pep Guardiola and they’re showing no signs of stopping. A win for them seems inevitable against Javi Gracia’s Watford.
Prediction: Manchester City 3-1 Watford