At the season’s end only 10 league places separated the champions Manchester City and Watford so at first glance it seems incongruous to suggest that this Saturday’s FA Cup Final is a good old-fashioned David v Goliath encounter. A Liverpool versus Wimbledon if you will, or Leeds v Sunderland if you’re of a certain vintage.
Yet that would be over-looking the formidable manner in which City have claimed their back-to-back titles, with 201 goals scored across the two campaigns and 198 points relentlessly accrued. More so their football has been spell-binding, often residing on another planet.
It would discount also the chasmous points difference between the two clubs this term, 48 all told. That’s a wider gap than Hull or Aston Villa had to bridge in their respective finals against Arsenal. It’s even a wider gap than when Wigan took on Manchester City in 2013 and that year the Blues finished second while the Latics were relegated.
Having additionally lost twice in recent months to the brilliant Blues make no mistake about it the Hornets go into their first major final since 1984 as the huge underdogs and this is reflected in the betting with Javi Gracia’s men a whopping 14-1 to prevail. This despite their highly impressive season. This despite having a shrewd and pragmatic coach in Javi Gracia and a midfield duo who bow to no-one. Of the two Etienne Capoue can count himself extremely unfortunate not to make the recent PFA Team of the Year.
They do however have a powerful ally on their side; an ally that can’t physically prevent Sergio Aguero from scoring or beat Ederson with a low drive but could have a profound effect on proceedings nonetheless. The past.
The FA Cup makes legends, it doesn’t reward them
Whether Pep Guardiola’s creation achieves a clean sweep of domestic silverware or not this weekend they are unquestionably now installed in the pantheon of great British sides. And among that illustrious company they might soon find themselves sharing horror stories about how the FA Cup is so elusive compared to all other trophies.
Herbert Chapman’s great Huddersfield Town side of the 1920s won the FA Cup prior to several years of league domination. As they straddled English football though Wembley remained a distant dream with early exits in the cup commonplace.
Thirty years later Wolves repeated the pattern, first marking their intent with cup success then getting nowhere fast in knockout competitions as they otherwise bossed the 1950s.
Half a century on Chelsea reversed the trend. Under Jose Mourinho in the mid-2000s the Blues won the Premier League two year’s running at a canter. It was only when their league fortunes began to dwindle though that Wembley glories followed in abundance.
Nottingham Forest famously never lifted the FA Cup during Brian Clough’s reign despite being memorably successful elsewhere while Liverpool between 1974 and 1986 didn’t win it in an era that saw seven league titles paraded around Anfield not to mention four European Cups.
In fact, of all the stellar sides that has made a lasting impression at the very top only Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson could be said to be on speaking terms with the tournament. Even then four wins across 20 years of unparalleled conquering is hardly an exclusive relationship.
Maybe, just maybe there is something in this ‘magic of the cup’ business after all.
It would be a stretch to call the long-standing struggle of great teams to impose their might on the FA Cup a ‘curse’ nor though is it a mere quirk. Whatever it is Manchester City are already well acquainted with it.
In 2011 cup joy against Stoke secured their first trophy of the post-takeover era and two years later they returned to Wembley to take on little-fancied Wigan, the result of which was considered by one-and-all to be a formality. The shock upset that occurred courtesy of a late Ben Watson header will be of particular interest to Watford and incredibly the Latics then went on to unseat City on a further two occasions.
In between those surprising exits a defeat to Middlesbrough a league below them is also one of a litany of disappointments that have been reluctantly accepted as compensation for four league titles in eight years and four League Cups in six years.
The over-riding narrative has it that City’s failure to win a Champions League consumes the club. Whisper it quietly but an unexpected loss this Saturday could mean that the FA Cup is similarly viewed as a holy grail.
The weight of history is heavy
Bringing matters to the present perhaps Watford’s greatest cause for hope lies in the burden of a record breaking achievement now being within touching distance for Kompany and company.
As witnessed against Brighton in their tight, tense semi-final the extravagant fare from earlier in the season has been replaced by acutely pressurised attrition, as City game-manage single-goal victories to ensure they get over the line.
On big occasions in particular such conservatism can be taken advantage of and Watford will seek to do precisely that.
Regardless, with five from City’s last 11 league games ending in 1-0 wins the 13/2 available on that score-line definitely tempts.
Source: UK Soccer News