Watford went into their FA Cup semi final against Wolves as the slight underdogs with the bookmakers. Like their opponents, the Hornets have had an excellent season in which they have exceeded all expectations in the Premier League so they headed to Wembley with a great deal of confidence.
With little over 20 minutes left of Sunday’s semi final it looked as though that confidence was badly misplaced. Wolves took a commanding 2-0 lead just after the hour mark and were set to see the match out to book their place in the final. With nothing to lose, Javi Gracia threw caution to the wind by introducing Gerard Deulofeu from the bench and allowing his players to take the handbrake off.
When Deulofeu scored on 79 minutes you could sense the mood change amongst the Wolves fans. It wasn’t quite panic stations but Nuno Espirito Santo was concerned enough to make a couple of defensive substitutions to try and kill the game off. The subs ended up having the opposite effect as they handed the impetus to Watford who took the game to extra time thanks to an ice cool Troy Deeney penalty deep into stoppage time and then won the match through another Deulofeu strike in extra time.
Everybody knows how difficult it’s going to be for Watford to win again at Wembley Stadium with Manchester City waiting in the final. The nature of their semi final triumph may just give Gracia and his players the feeling that fate is on their side though. Moreover, with the odds against them once again, Watford can take the same sort of free hit mentality they embraced in the latter stages of the semi final which should provide an entertaining match for the neutrals and may just give the Hornets a chance of winning the FA Cup for the first time in the club’s history.
Man City Won’t Be Able to Keep Watford at Arm’s Length
Liverpool fans may have something to say about it but there is no doubt in the minds of most judges that Manchester City are the best team in English football. The Citizens might even be the best team in world football and will surely prove that to be true if they are able to complete an unprecedented quadruple.
After initially being criticised for a refusal to change his approach for the specific demands of English football in his first season as Man City manager, Pep Guardiola has won almost universal praise for the style of football that his team play. The City manager does not do anything for praise though. Everything he does is geared around one thing – winning.
He has instilled that will to win above everything else to every player in the Man City first squad. That’s great for the City fans who pretty much expect their team to win every match they play but it’s not always so great for the neutrals.
Sunday’s semi final was jam packed full of incident and drama. It was a very different story 24 hours earlier. Man City took the lead against Brighton within a matter of minutes and although the Seagulls were happy to still be in with a shout approaching the last 10 minutes, City were never really in any danger.
We’ve seen Man City take an early lead and then keep the opposition at bay time and time again this season. It is borderline impossible to coast through a game against any Premier League side as they all have the quality to score in an instant, but Guardiola has clearly told his players to win with the minimum amount of fuss and effort possible. That may not be possible against Watford.
No neutral wants Man City to kill the FA Cup off as a contest in the first 10 minutes. They want a contest that’s worthy of the stage of the FA Cup final and Watford have the attacking quality to provide just that. We saw against Wolves that Javi Gracia has quality players capable of changing the game from the bench. They also have forwards and midfielders who can create and take a chance in an instant even against a team of Man City’s class.
Tactical Flexibility and Mentality the Key for Watford
Wolves learned to their cost that a two goal lead is not enough to see off the challenge of this Watford team. Gracia was pretty disappointed with the way that his team played for much of Sunday’s match and it looked for a long while as though Wolves were set up perfectly to deal with Watford’s attacking build up play.
Wolves got a shock when Gracia shook things up with the introduction of Deulofeu and made some tactical alterations. Those changes combined with a bit of complacency amongst the Wolves players gave Watford a route back into the game. Man City are used to being the heavy favourites and are unlikely to allow complacency to creep in during the FA Cup final but they will still be challenged by Watford’s ability to adapt to the situation of the game.
Watford’s tactical flexibility comes from the hard hours that Gracia and his coaching staff have put in with the players. The players will get a certain amount of confidence from that work but it’s only really possible for them to bounce back from setbacks in a game due to their mental fortitude.
Troy Deeney is the individual who best sums up the resilience that Watford possesses as a collective. He’s had his problems with Gracia at times but the pair have kissed and made up with both respecting the job the other does. Deeney relishes his role as Watford club captain. He showed by taking that crucial penalty at Wembley that he has no problem standing up to lead by example but those who have watched much Watford this season will tell you he shows his leadership countless times in every match.
Deeney simply won’t allow his teammates to give anything less than 100% in the FA Cup final. He has a special bond with the Watford fans and knows just how much winning the famous old trophy would mean to them. He also believes in what Watford are doing and the quality they possess.
With Deeney’s competitiveness rubbing off on the rest of the Watford players and the team’s proven ability to bounce back from disappointment, the underdogs should be able to make a real game of the FA Cup final which is exactly what the neutrals want and what Man City do not.