Watford vs Crystal Palace preview: Place in FA Cup semi-final up for grabs
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Watford vs Crystal Palace preview: Place in FA Cup semi-final up for grabs

The Hornets and the Eagles meet for the third time this season and will battle it out for a spot in the final four of England's most prized knockout competition.

Jake Horwood

For these two sides the coming weekend yields a break from their Premier League ventures, though the task at hand will be no less taxing as Watford and Crystal Palace lock horns at Vicarage Road in pursuit of a place in the FA Cup semi-final.

The Hornets return to their home venue after a 3-1 loss to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium a week ago, where the Eagles conjured a shock victory earlier in the season. Watford were downed by a quick-fire Raheem Sterling hat-trick before Gerard Deulofeu pulled a goal back.

Head coach Javi Gracia fielded a weakened side to face the champions, with the likes of Troy Deeney, Will Hughes and Deulofeu all absent from the starting 11, indicating that his priorities lie in securing progression from this cup tie.

Meanwhile, Palace's league form continued in its mixed vein after they suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Brighton & Hove Albion at Selhurst Park. Glenn Murray put the Seagulls ahead with a deft finish in the first-half before Luka Milivojević evened the scores from the penalty spot, but the game was decided by a stunning 74th-minute strike from Anthony Knockeart.

Roy Hodgson's side seem to enjoy trips away from home — theirs is the 6th best away record in the top flight. In contrast, however, the Eagles languish at 19th for their Premier League record at Selhurst Park, though they can take encouragement from the fact that they triumphed over Tottenham Hotspur in the last round of this competition.

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Previous meetings

This is the third time this fixture has shown up on the calendar in 2018/19, and Watford boast the favourable advantage as far as statistics are concerned having won both of the previous two encounters so far.

Back in August, goals from Roberto Pereyra and José Holebas gave the Hornets victory at Vicarage Road despite a late consolation from Wilfried Zaha. The reverse tie in January saw Craig Cathcart cancel out his first-half own goal before a spectacular Tom Cleverley volley propelled Watford to their first league win of 2019.

The last FA Cup game between these sides was the semi-final at Wembley Stadium in 2016. Palace took an early lead through Yannick Bolasie before Deeney fired his side level, but a guided header from Connor Wickham sent the Eagles through to the final against Manchester United.

Remarkably, Palace have not lost to the Hornets three times in a row since 1936.

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View from the dugout

A rotated Watford side last weekend suggests Gracia plans to go full-strength against Palace. However, the Spaniard defends his decision to make changes earlier in the competition and has cited the benefits of using the depth of his squad at this stage in the season.

"I know what my players are able to do and I would like the rest of the people to respect my decision or respect our players because when I choose some of them it’s because, for the next game, I really think they are the best option for us.

“When we are in March and we have all the squad ready, all the squad motivated and looking forward to the next game, I think it’s good for us and maybe you can’t achieve it if you manage your team in another way.”

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In the other dugout, Hodgson is aware that he and his squad will have to perform at the height of their capabilities in order to pass the stern test that the Hornets provide under Gracia. To reach a cup final would be the realisation of a dream for the 71-year old boyhood Palace fan.

"Of course it would be a wonderful thing to do, to win the FA Cup, but there’s a lot to do before we can even hope to achieve that. We’ve got to get through two very difficult games and then we’d face a very tough opponent in the semi-final.

"The final is the stuff of which dreams are made of. We have to confront reality and the present when it comes to the match with Watford knowing full-well if we want to see a dream come true, we’ve got to get through that Watford game."

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Team news

The entirety of Watford's first-team are fit and in contention to feature here after Miguel Britos overcame a leg injury which saw him substituted against City.

One dilemma for Gracia lies in the goalkeeping position, where the Spaniard will have to decide between cup starter Heurelho Gomes and first-choice Ben Foster.

Meanwhile, Palace stopper Wayne Hennessey has recovered from a minor problem and Pape Souare is also available after a dislocated shoulder, however Bakary Sako is suffering from a calf injury and his expected to be sidelined.

Predicted XIs

Watford — Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Hughes, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.

Crystal Palace — Guaita; Wan-Bissaka, Dann, Tomkins, van Aanholt; MacArthur, Milivojević, Meyer; Townsend, Batshuayi, Zaha.