While the Sky Blues were understandably disappointed when they were unceremoniously knocked out of the Champions League quarterfinals, the back-to-back Premier League champions and current Carabao Cup (a.k.a. League Cup) trophy holders will relish their chance to become the first ever team to take the domestic treble.
Manchester City’s opponent: 11th place Watford, a team that, before the season, many of us thought would be relegated. But hey, a powerhouse against a plucky upstart for a major cup title at Wembley Stadium, how fun is that, right?!
COMPARING THE TEAMS IN 2018-19 AND HISTORICALLY
Taking a look at the tale of the tape, the gap between the clubs is staggering:
Manchester City versus Watford
|EPL Goals Scored||95||52|
|EPL Goals Conceded||23||59|
|EPL Goal Differential||72||-7|
|EPL Leading Goal Scorer||21 (S. Aguero)||10 (G. Deulofeu)|
|EPL Leading Assist Maker||10 (L. Sane & R. Sterling)||6 (A. Doucoure & J. Holebas)|
|FA Cup Goals Scored||20||10|
|FA Cup Goals Conceded||3||3|
|Previous FA Cup Finals||10||1|
|Previous FA Cup Trophies||5||0|
|Most Recent FA Cup Final||2013||1984|
|Most Recent FA Cup Trophy||2011||Never|
(Note: 2018-19 season unless otherwise noted)
Looking at recent form, Manchester City did fall to Tottenham in the Champions League quarterfinals, but the Citizens come in riding a brilliant 14-game winning streak in the Premiership. The Hornets, on the other hand, have sputtered in losing three straight at the finish, winless in their last four.
HOW THEY GOT TO THE FINAL
Of course, in terms of F.A. Cup form, each team is on a five-game win streak! (Duh, you can’t advance otherwise.) Each team boasts three clean sheets, but overall the Manchester City offense has been considerably more potent.
CAN WATFORD KEEP IT CLOSE, OR POSSIBLY EVEN WIN?
The hope for a good, close game starts with a look at diminishing returns in the FA Cup competition from Manchester City, which dominated through the Fifth Round Proper, but squeaked past lightweights Swansea City in the quarterfinal and Brighton in the semi by just a single goal each. It also comes from a similar story in the Premier League: while the Citizens coasted to a 4-1 victory at Brighton to cap the season, the Sky Blues didn’t beat a single team by more than two goals in any of the prior 10 EPL games, and five of were the 1-0 variety.
If Manchester City can’t pull away — in other words, if Watford can stay close, there will always be a sliver of hope that the Hornets can pull the upset. Don’t forget that Swansea put two past Ederson, so Watford might find a route to goal. And there’s always the randomness of penalties.
Five times in all competitions this season, one or another Watford player has seen red, and the Hornets have lost all five of those tilts. Two of those come in the past six games: Troy Deeney in the 0-1 home loss to Arsenal and Jose Holebas (since rescinded) in the 1-4 home defeat to West Ham in the EPL finale. Not getting a red card would seem to be an awfully good place to start if the Hornets want to have a chance!
Aside from that, Gerard Deulofeu has brought an offensive spark to the team in recent months; the dynamic winger scored seven goals in the final eleven games of the EPL season and netted a brace in the semifinal victory over Wolves. Javi Gracia will enjoy building his team up from an underdog role, hoping that the Citizens’ are mentally exhausted following the epic late-season battle with Liverpool for the league crown.
Of course, the #1 reason Watford will have for winning the FA Cup over Manchester City has to be the memory of the Citizens’ most recent appearance in the final. After finishing the 2012-13 season in 2nd place, they lost to relegated Wigan. If woeful Wigan could beat a strong Manchester City side then, why can’t mid-table Watford now?
… OR MAYBE NOT
The fear of a lopsided affair, of course, follows from Watford’s 3-0 loss at Chelsea and the aforementioned 1-4 home loss to the Hammers at the finish of the campaign, plus there’s the tale of the tape above, and Manchester City’s indomitable winning ways to finish the EPL season.
Highlighting the discrepancy in talent, the PFA Premier League Team of the Year featured a whopping six Citizens: goalkeeper Ederson, defender Aymeric Laporte, defensive midfielder Fernandinho, midfielder Bernardo Silva, winger Raheem Sterling, and forward Sergio Aguero. And that doesn’t even count past-season A-list appearances by winger Riyad Mahrez, midfielders David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, and defenders Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi and Kyle Walker. By contrast, no current Watford player has ever graced a PFA Team of the Year.
HOW HAVE THE TEAMS FARED AGAINST EACH OTHER?
In their two EPL contests, Manchester City won in December at Vicarage Road, 2-1, then triumphed again in March at the Etihad, 3-1. Those results point to the likelihood of the Citizens winning again, but do offer the promise of a competitive affair.
Indeed, the Hornets have beaten the Citizens before — eking out a 1-0 victory in March 1989, back when both were in the 2nd tier (before the Premier League was created). Their more recent encounters over the last 30 years have not been as successful, though there was a draw eleven matches ago...
INJURIES & SUSPENSIONS
Manchester City: Pep Guardiola has a mostly fit squad at his disposal with only back-up keeper Claudio Bravo and wing-back Benjamin Mendy unavailable. Defensive midfielder Fernandinho has recovered from injury, but after not making the 18-man team for the EPL finale last Sunday, it is unclear whether he will slot back into the XI or have to settle for a spot on the bench. Following recovery from his latest setback, Kevin De Bruyne made a sub appearance in the EPL finale, and could be ready to start. [Source: Manchester Evening news.]
Watford: Defender Sebastian Prodl and central midfielder Domingos Quina will miss the game with injury [source: The Sports Bank], but neither has featured too much this season, so Javi Gracia will have all of his regulars to choose from.
There are no suspensions for either team. (Watford successfully appealed the red card suspension of Jose Holebas.)
MUSIC STAR SUPER-FANS
Another fun feature to this game is the presence of musical superstars Liam & Noel Gallagher (of Oasis) and Sir Elton John. Oasis stood at the forefront of the Manchester-led Britpop musical scene, and with devoted supporters the Gallagher brothers ever-present at the Etihad, the 1990s mega-hit “Wonderwall” has become one of the Citizens’ unofficial anthems. [Click on this Sky Sports link to see Manchester City players celebrate their EPL title by singing in the locker room with Noel.]
Meanwhile, lifetime Hornets fan and Vicarage Road fixture Elton John actually owned the Watford team for two stints — the last one ending in 2002 — leaving it no surprise that his 1980s smash success “I’m Still Standing” is a big favorite at the Stadium [Source: smoothradio.com].
While you may be rooting for one of the teams on the pitch, you don’t have to choose between the Gallagher Bros. and Sir Elton, as both musical sides of superfandom are undeniably brilliant.
Can Manchester City make history by taking the domestic treble? Or will Watford instead pull a monumental upset? Please let us know your thoughts ahead of the game, and join us as the action unfolds live!