Manchester City vs Watford preview: History beckons for both sides
Photo by Getty Images

No less than 736 teams nationwide entered. Now, only two remain. Wembley Stadium is the venue, the FA Cup is the prize, and Manchester City and Watford lock horns with the objective of achieving glory.

But there's far more than just a trophy at stake — history is on the line for both. The Citizens are now one victory away from completing the first men's domestic treble England has ever witnessed, while the Hornets could claim major silverware for the first time since the club's founding.

City arrive at the nation's home of football buoyed by their recent success at retaining the Premier League title. After a scintillating, awe-inspiring, season-long duel with Liverpool, a single point proved enough to separate the sides in City's favour.

Last time out, the Manchester outfit secured that title on the last day of the league campaign with a 4-1 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. Nerves ran high when Glenn Murray put the Seagulls ahead, but record goalscorer Sergio Agüero replied almost instantly and the Citizens romped to an assured victory which was reflective in many ways of their glittering season as a whole.

Embed from Getty Images

Brighton also stood in City's away on their route to the final, but an early goal from Gabriel Jesus was enough to ensure their passage. The Citizens also dispatched Rotherham United, Burnley, Newport County and Swansea City to reach this stage.

The FA Cup is the only domestic trophy still eluding Pep Guardiola since he took over at City in 2016 and, as one of the most acclaimed and ambitious coaches in world football, the Spaniard will be hell-bent on completing his English trophy cabinet.

Meanwhile, Watford can't quite boast achievements of the ilk of City's heading into this showpiece encounter, but their more modest expectations have allowed for a great deal of pride in their own right across 2018/19.

A team widely tipped for relegation and led by a manager, Javi Gracia, commonly named in the league's sack race, the Hornets defied the odds with a superb league campaign and even more so with their magical rise to Wembley.

Non-league Woking were the first to fall victim to Watford's journey to the final before they went on to win at both Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers. A repeat of the 2016 semi-final then arrived as the Hornets took on Crystal Palace, though this time they emerged victorious thanks to a late goal from Andre Gray.

And then came the game that all will remember. Watford vs Wolverhampton Wanderers looked every bit a fascinating tie considering the ongoing jostle between the teams for Europa League qualification via the Premier League, and to say it lived up to expectations would be an understatement.

Wolves led 2-0 thanks to goals from Matt Doherty and Raúl Jiménez, but the Hornets clawed themselves back into the game with a spectacular finish from Gerard Deulofeu. Awarded a penalty in stoppage time, Troy Deeney stepped up to even the scores in dramatic fashion, and Watford continued their ascendency into extra-time as Deuloufeu calmly slotted the winner.

Embed from Getty Images

That afternoon was nothing short of a miracle, and Watford will need something of the sort here if they are to overcome one of the most potent forces currently operating in the beautiful game. Whatever the result, though, it will be a special occasion for both sets of fans and surely an intriguing encounter on the pitch.

Previous meetings

City's eyes will not only be focused on a treble of trophies, but also a trio of victories over Watford across 2018/19 having already defeated their opponents twice during the league campaign.

At Vicarage Road in December, City coasted into a two-goal lead but were forced to work to hold onto their advantage as the Hornets applied a considerable amount of pressure in the latter stages, nearly salvaging a point. The reverse fixture at the Etihad Stadium just over two months ago saw a hat-trick from Raheem Sterling set the Citizens up for a comfortable victory before Deulofeu notched a consolation.

Embed from Getty Images

Those two results take City's tally of consecutive wins over Watford in all competitions to ten, and they have scored at least twice in each of those games.

The last FA Cup meeting between the sides was back in 2014. Then in the Championship, Watford were on course for a shock result when they went two goals to the good — one of those scored by current club captain Deeney — but City completed a remarkable second-half turnaround advance into the Fifth Round.

View from the dugout

Guardiola has offered high praise for his opponents prior to the game and knows that his City players will have to perform appropriately if they are to come out on top.

"Watford are one of the best teams outside the top six. Javi is an experienced manager from working in other countries and I think he is an excellent guy, and excellent manager who knows exactly what to do. They have huge talent up front, many physical players, good on set-pieces.

Embed from Getty Images

"This is the final, we know what can happen. But we believe a lot in ourselves and we will have to find the antidote to beat them."

Regardless of the result on Saturday, it's been a campaign to remember both for the club and for Guardiola on a personal note, and he will remember it as such: "If we win, the season is extraordinary. If we don't, I think it's still extraordinary."

Meanwhile, no stranger to paying against the odds, Gracia knows from experience that the seemingly impossible can indeed be made feasible through little more than hard work and a touch of clinical nature.

"We're going to create chances," he said. "And you could score like we did when I was in Malaga playing against Barcelona, for example, and we won 1-0. Of course the next game against City will be different, but all the experiences you have can help you."

Embed from Getty Images

Team news

City's dynamic midfielder Kevin De Bruyne is in contention to start after marking his return from injury by coming on as a substitute against Brighton.

Another who has struggled with injury, Fernandinho, is fit to play but could be left out in favour of his recent understudy, Ilkay Gündogan.

Full-back Benjamin Mendy continues to suffer from a long-term knee problem and will not play.

A hero in the semi-final victory over Wolves, Watford forward Deulofeu has recovered from the dead leg he suffered against West Ham United a week ago and will likely start here.

In a further boost for the Hornets, first-choice left-back José Holebas had his red card against the Hammers rescinded by the FA shortly after the game and is available to feature.

Veteran goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes will start in what could be his last ever game in professional football.

Watford's only confirmed absentee is Domingos Quina.

Predicted XIs

Manchester City — Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Laporte, Zinchenko; David Silva, Gündogan, De Bruyne; Bernardo, Agüero, Sterling.

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