Watford vs Wolverhampton Wanderers preview: European contenders do battle in semi-final
Photo by Getty Images/Richard Heathcote

A close-encounter awaits as 8th-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers take on 9th-placed Watford in the FA Cup Semi-final at Wembley Stadium.

Both teams enter the tie in a mixed patch of form; Wolves have received a lot of the spotlight in the past few days following Tuesday night's victory against Manchester United at Molineux, whilst Watford relegated Fulham with a 4-1 win at Vicarage Road at the same time.

However, Wolves' form against non-top six sides has not been nearly as impressive as their form against those within that bracket in recent weeks. A 2-0 defeat at Burnley epitomises this point - yet they were in complete domination in that game - as well as their recent 1-0 loss to the now-relegated Huddersfield Town.

In contrast, their form against top six sides has been superb, and one that most teams could only dream of, with the Midlands outfit accumulating 10 points against the Premier League's elite.

Watford, meanwhile, are the polar opposite - the Hornets have seen no defeat against any side outside the top six since the 1st December when Javi Gracia's men travelled to Leicester City and lost. Take away the big six, and Watford would be top of the league. Put them back in, however, and they have only taken 3 points off the larger clubs; a home win against Tottenham back in September accounting for all of those points.

Previous meetings

The only recent meeting between the two happened back in October, when Watford shocked an in-form Wolves with a 2-0 win at Molineux; two goals in the space of 58 seconds from Etienne Capoue and Roberto Pereyra sealing an important win back then for the Hornets.

Most recent encounters took place in the Championship. In Watford's promotion season, a 2-2 draw was the result of a fiery encounter in Wolverhampton which saw a red card given to either side.

It's fair to say that both teams have changed a lot since then - with Nuno Espirito Santo completely revamping the style and squad at Wolves, and with Javi Gracia transforming Watford's fortunes.

The Manager's View

Gracia is very excited at the prospect of a cup final, which would be his first time reaching one in his career as a manager.

"I've never played as a coach a final. Semi-finals I played in Russia, but a final I've never played. It will be the best achievement in this competition for sure. If I win it I don't know what I'd do."

Gracia, who replaced current Everton boss Marco Silva as manager in January 2018, has high hopes for what could be a quality match-up.

"I hope it will be a good game. Both teams are playing well with good results, in a good moment and we have to show in this semi-final what we are able to do and if we deserve to go to the final.

"The players have been keeping the same attitude all season and it helps us to feel in this moment to feel all the work we have done before."

The popular Espirito Santo, meanwhile, is keen not to get ahead of himself or his players, believing that it's more important for his high-flying Wolves to focus on the game at hand.

"Focus on the game, don't think about anything else. You have to know how to play it. Don't think about what it could mean, or what could happen after.

"Make the game special. Just play the game, action by action. Everybody knows what it could mean, but we have to play it just like another game and focus on the task.

He also spoke in high-regard of fellow high-flyers Watford, with the two fighting it out for 7th place and a Europa League spot amongst other teams as well.

"It's going to be very close. Watford is a good team with very good players and a very good manager. They're very organised and we expect a very tough game. They've been performing well."

Team news

Watford's Pereyra is a large doubt for Sunday's match, after picking up a hip injury ahead of the game. Isaac Success is also unlikely to feature after sustaining a knee injury. Moreover, Tom Cleverley will certainly miss the occasion with an ongoing calf problem.

Wolves, however, have no new injury concerns. Espirito Santo has confimed that John Ruddy will continue his starting spot for cup games in the semi-final, ahead of normal starter Rui Patricio

Raul Jimenez, who signed permanently with the team in midweek from Benfica for a fee of £30 Million, will be hoping to start his first game as a contracted Wolves player.

Predicted XI's

Watford - Gomes; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Doucoure, Deulofeu; Deeney, Gray

The in-form Andre Gray could finally make a start due to the potential omission of Pereyra, which may move Gerard Deulofeu out to the left midfield. However, Ken Sema could also take Pereyra's place, meaning that Deulofeu will most likely start up front with captain Troy Deeney as he usually does.

Wolves - Ruddy; Bennett, Coady, Boly, Doherty; Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho, Castro; Jota, Jimenez

Wolves' starting XI will probably look very similar usual, with a couple of changes perhaps - including Ruddy in goal as the manager confirmed in the week.