The Premier League is all wrapped up and the two big European finals are yet to come. That leaves a nice slot in the middle for the 2019 FA Cup final between Manchester City and Watford at Wembley Stadium.
Both sides had to overcome tricky semi-final ties to reach the North London finale after entering the competition at the third round stage. Now they’ll go head-to-head for the famous old pot at 5:00pm on Saturday 18th May.
You can watch the match live on BBC1 or BT Sport 2. Ahead of the showdown, we’re on hand to give an in-depth look at the two teams, their respective routes to the 138th final and the key players to watch out for.
Man City are no strangers to winning the FA Cup. The Cityzens have lifted the trophy on five separate occasions between their first success in 1904 against Bolton Wanderers and their most recent in 2011 v Stoke City.
That makes them the joint-sixth most successful side in the history of the competition. A sixth victory against Watford at Wembley would draw them alongside Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United in the all-time list.
Pep Guardiola will be hoping the 138th final isn’t quite as close as the 32nd. City won that 1-0 against Bolton at Crystal Palace courtesy of William Meredith’s 23rd-minute goal to lift their first major honour.
Another success would have to wait until 1934 when Samuel Tilson scored twice to down Portsmouth 2-1 at Wembley. That FA Cup victory was followed three years later by a maiden first division title.
A further lean spell followed after the war prior to a runner-up finish in the cup in 1955 and then a third trophy against Birmingham City in 1956. Leicester City were beaten 1-0 in 1969 for their fourth Wembley win.
City were back at Wembley in 1981 as they lost 3-2 in a replay against Tottenham Hotspur. That would prove to be their last visit for an FA Cup final until Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of the club in 2008.
After renewed investment on and off the field, the Cityzens were back at Wembley in 2011 for an FA Cup Final against Stoke City. Yaya Toure scored the only goal of the game as City triumphed 1-0.
Athletic shocked City in the final two years later as Ben Watson scored a 90th-minute
winner to secure a first major win for the Latics in one of the biggest cup
final shocks in modern history.
Who is the Manchester City manager?
Pep Guardiola is probably the most recognisable manager in world football. The Catalan coach has won everything there is to win in the club game across spells at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.
He has collected an incredible 25 major honours as a manager alongside 14 as a player. The 48-year-old has been hugely successful in Manchester, but it was at Barcelona where the Spaniard made his name in the dugout.
Guardiola assembled one of the best teams in the history of the game at Camp Nou. Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta was at its core as Barca tiki-taka’d their way to a hat-trick of La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues.
After four fabulous seasons in Catalonia, Guardiola then took a year out of the game before returning to manage Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. Surprisingly enough his success continued apace.
He won a hat-trick of Bundesliga titles and two DFB-Pokal trophies during his time at the Allianz Arena, although a third Champions League title would elude him with three successive semi-final defeats.
Then it was onto Man City. The club was effectively built in his image following the takeover in 2008 with the belief that one day Guardiola would come on board to take them to the next level.
Things didn’t start brightly during the 2016-17 season as City finished third behind Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. It remains the only season in management where Guardiola has not won a trophy.
No matter; the 2017-18 campaign made up for lost time. Despite going out of the FA Cup at the last-16 stage, Guardiola led City to a magical 100 points and their first league title since 2014.
completing a domestic double last term, this time he’s on for English
football’s first ever domestic treble after securing a second successive Prem
title and the 2018-19 Carabao Cup.
Who are Manchester City’s key players?
Ask Guardiola and he’d say that City don’t have one key player; they have 11. But that doesn’t really work for this section, so we’ve pinpointed three who will be crucial at Wembley in the FA Cup final.
Sergio Aguero is the obvious one to look at. The Argentine is City’s all-time leading scorer and has 32 goals in 46 appearances this season. That includes two in two matches in the FA Cup.
He has formed an incredible partnership with Raheem Sterling this term. The England ace has come on leaps and bounds under Guardiola and recently won the 2018-19 Football Writers’ Player of the Year award.
His movement and pace terrifies defenders. 23 goals in 50 matches isn’t a bad return for City either, especially when you add in the 10 assists he’s provided in the Premier League too – the joint-sixth best in the division.
Bernardo Silva has also established himself as one of the Cityzens’ go-to men. Signed for £43m in May 2017, the Portuguese playmaker links everything up in the middle of the park.
He’s the natural successor to namesake David and will be the crucial calming influence for City on the ball at Wembley as they go in search of an historic treble.
What was Manchester City’s route to the final?
Manchester City have scored 20 and conceded just four goals in five matches en-route to the FA Cup final. That paints a picture of total dominance, but it hasn’t been quite as easy as you might think for Guardiola and co.
Their 7-0 annihilation of Rotherham United and in round three and a 5-0 success over Burnley in round four were routine. But a 4-1 success at League Two side Newport County in round five was fraught with trouble.
Leroy Sane and Phil Foden shot City into a 2-0 lead in South Wales but the Exiles huffed and puffed on their bobbly pitch and got their reward as Padraig Amond pulled one back in the 88th minute. City eventually won 4-1.
Similarly, the Cityzens had to come from 2-0 behind against Swansea City in the quarter-final after Matt Grimes and Bersant Celina put the Swans in front. Aguero scored the crucial winner with just two minutes remaining.
That set up a semi-final with Brighton & Hove Albion, where Gabriel Jesus’s fourth-minute strike was enough for the victory despite the best efforts of Lewis Dunk in the second-half for the Seagulls.
Manchester City boast a rich FA Cup heritage. Watford don’t have quite the same claim to fame. The Hornets have never won the famous old pot. They’ve only reached the final once – all the way back in 1984.
Their final appearance against Everton was the crowning glory for then-manager Graham Taylor, who had taken the unfashionable Hertfordshire side all the way from the old fourth division to runners-up in division one.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for a team which contained the likes of Nigel Callaghan and John Barnes. Howard Kendall’s Toffees dispatched them 2-0 with goals either side of half-time from Andy Gray and Graeme Sharp.
Their good form in the competition did at least continue. Watford reached the quarter-finals in three of the next four years. They then had to wait another 15 years before reaching the semi-final as a division one side.
The Hornets put up a valiant effort but ultimately lost out to Southampton at Villa Park as their quest to reach a second FA Cup final fell agonisingly short.
It was a case of same again in both 2007 and 2016 as semi-final defeats to both Manchester United and Crystal Palace left Watford fans tasting tears instead of champagne. Now that’s all change in 2019.
Who is Watford’s manager?
There are a lot of similarities between Guardiola and Watford boss Javi Gracia. Both are Spanish and both were midfielders in their playing days, while the pair are separated by just one year in terms of age too.
It’s just the 25 trophies that separate them as adversaries in the dugout. That said, the 48-year-old has done a terrific job in his first season at Vicarage Road to stabilise a club that always seems to be in flux.
The same can be said of the man himself. Gracia has endured a nomadic jobbing career to date, taking in the likes of Cadiz, Almeria, Osasuna and Rubin Kazan; never staying more than two years at one single club.
His biggest achievement prior to reaching the FA Cup final with Watford had been guiding both Pontevedra and Cadiz to Segunda Division B titles in 2007 and 2009. We reckon this probably outstrips those feats.
Gracia has managed to build a stable and effective side that plays an attractive brand of football while also keeping supporters onside. An 11th place finish in the Premier League – Watford’s best since 1987 – also deserves praise.
In fact, it’s
even more remarkable when you consider Gracia was one of the early season
favourites to get sacked. Our traders had him down at 6/1 to face the boot
before a ball had been kicked during the 2018-19 season.
Who are Watford’s key players?
There are plenty of key men who make this Watford side tick. But ex-Barcelona prodigy Gerard Deulofeu has really developed a reputation as something of an FA Cup specialist this season.
The tricky 25-year-old has settled at Vicarage Road after flitting between Everton, Sevilla and AC Milan. His 10 goals in the league pale in comparison to the vital brace he bagged in the FA Cup semi-final against Wolves.
Without him, the Hornets wouldn’t be facing Man City at Wembley. In many ways he’s a Guardiola style player, and with nine goals to his name since mid-February, he’s bang in form too.
Partner in crime Troy Deeney also represents a significant threat. The 6ft ace has been at Watford since 2010 and has made over 250 appearances for the club. He’s the definition of a handful for opposition defenders.
Abdoulaye Doucoure is another City need to watch out for. Signed from Rennes in 2016, the Frenchman has been the star man at Vicarage Road this season and is now reportedly coveted by Paris Saint-Germain.
26-year-old is a controlling presence in the middle of the park who drives the
play forward. So much so that his game has drawn comparisons with that of
Arsenal legend and fellow French ace Patrick Vieira.
What was Watford’s route to the final?
There’s always a potential banana skin game en-route to the FA Cup final. Watford faced theirs in round three with a visit to Kingfield to take on National League South underdogs Woking.
Goals from Will Hughes and Deeney ensured the Hornets avoided an upset against the Cards before Andre Gray and Isaac Success were on target in another 2-0 win – this time against Newcastle United – in the fourth round.
A third away match on the spin brought a 1-0 success at Championship outfit Queens Park Rangers courtesy of Etienne Capoue’s exquisite strike.
He was on target yet again in the quarter-finals, as the Hornets edged past Crystal Palace 2-1 in a rematch of the 2013 Championship play-off final. Gray scored the crucial winner to cancel out Michy Batshuayi’s equaliser.
That set up an intriguing semi-final clash with Wolves which many predicted could be an FA Cup classic. Luckily enough for all us neutrals, they weren’t wrong.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s men looked to have it won thanks to a strike apiece from Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez. But Watford didn’t give up and pulled one back through Deulofeu’s sublime chip with 10 minutes to play.
Deeney then brought the Hornets back on terms with an ice-cool 90th-minute penalty, before Deulofeu rounded off his super-sub performance with an extra-time winner which squirmed under the body of keeper John Ruddy.