Manchester City travel to Wembley Stadium for their final match of a triumphant 2018-19 campaign, this time to square off with Watford in the FA Cup Final. The newly anointed Premier League Champions will look to round out England’s first-ever domestic treble by flattening the Hornets, who will surely be eager to atone for a disappointing loss to West Ham on Sunday with a massive, club-first FA Cup victory.
As we know, City are fresh off a truly remarkable Premier League title defense, the first in top-flight English football since 2009. After oh-so-briefly falling behind against Brighton, Pep’s men responded like wily veterans, netting four straight goals to secure their second trophy of 2019 and strengthen their status as an all-time great Premier League side. Goals from Sergio Agüero, Aymeric Laporte, Man of the Match Riyad Mahrez (more on that to come), and Ilkay Gündogan sealed the victory over a determined Seagulls squad.
Watford fans had far less to cheer about on Sunday, as an early second half red card from Jose Holebas thwarted a potential comeback and with it, a chance to secure an end-of-season spot in the top half of the table. Indeed, it has been a rough month for Watford, who have just one victory to their name since a famous 3-2 triumph over Wolves in the FA Cup semifinal.
City’s last match against Watford was only a few months ago, but so much has happened since then that it’s easy to forget what a scintillating performance Raheem Sterling put on at the Etihad on March 9th. After a frustrating first half, the 23-year-old winger struck three times in 14 minutes, earning himself a quickfire hattrick and dashing any chance of a Hornets upset. It was ultimately a workman-like 3-1 victory for the Blues, with the lone Watford goal coming off the boot of Spanish forward Gerard Deulofeu. All told, City are in spectacular form at the moment, having lost only once in all competitions since a 2-1 defeat at St. James’ Park on January 29th.
It could hardly be said that City limped across the Premier League finish line, but nevertheless, the Blues have been without key players Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho for the better part of the last month. The likes of Ilkay Gündogan and Phil Foden have been more than adequate replacements, but few would argue for an ideal City lineup that didn’t include KDB and Ferna. With that said, it’s possible that Saturday’s FA Cup clash sees the pair of oft-injured midfielders back in a City squad. Indeed, Pep has confirmed that Fernandinho trained with the team this week, and we were treated to a brief garbage time appearance from De Bruyne at Brighton last weekend. Here’s hoping we see both City talisman at Wembley.
Elsewhere, Benjamin Mendy is confirmed out. Shocking.
As for Watford, it seems that Gerard Deulofeu is very much in contention to start in the final, despite being subbed off a bit early during Sunday’s bout with West Ham. The Hornets will surely need his quickness on the counterattack if they’re to notch a goal or two past Ederson. In the midfield, Tom Cleverley is available for selection after missing out against the Hammers.
CITY XTRA PREDICTED XI
Ederson will get the start in net, simple as that.
Elsewhere, it will be fascinating to see if Pep makes significant changes from the Brighton lineup, particularly in the back line. While John Stones and Nico Otamendi have struggled to secure starts in recent weeks and surely deserve some more substantial match minutes, it’s hard to imagine a Manchester City FA Cup final without Vincent Kompany leading the team in what could prove to be his final appearance in a City shirt. Moreover, given his form this season, it might be even harder to imagine a City lineup that doesn’t include Aymeric Laporte. Pep’s hands are tied here, and I suspect we’ll see the pairing make yet another start together on Saturday.
Unsurprisingly, Kyle Walker and Oleksandr Zinchenko will slot into the defensive flanks, with Walker assigned the difficult task of containing the speedy Deulofeu.
In the midfield, I think Ilkay Gündogan gets another start and will look to maintain his great run of form in the Fernandinho role. Bernardo Silva and youngster Phil Foden will round out the middle of the pitch, with the latter surely eager to improve on a subpar performance against Leicester his last time out. While I’m sure Pep will be tempted to start De Bruyne and possibly even Fernandinho, there would be some considerable risk in doing so, and nothing could sour a jubilant parade day quite like a hobbled De Bruyne. City fought hard to overcome the Belgian’s absences and will be desperate to have him fully fit for next season. Look for Kev to see some second half minutes as a substitute.
Up front, Riyad Mahrez will get another start, and City fans will hope he can string together a pair of strong performances ahead of an important offseason. I’ll admit that I was one of many City fans questioning Pep’s decision to insert Mahrez into the lineup against Brighton. Was I wrong? Sure. But was I right to fear the worst when he played a lackluster first 20 minutes on the left wing? Absolutely. Mahrez undeniably earned his man of the match accolade on Sunday, and I couldn’t be happier for him. But let’s not forget that he has been a disappointment this season. Thankfully, City fans are a forgetful bunch and another special performance at Wembley could do wonders for the Algerian’s changing narrative.
Predictably, Sergio Agüero and Raheem Sterling wrap up the squad. Here’s hoping for another dazzling display from Raz against the Hornets.
City Bench: Aro Muric, Danilo, David Silva, John Stones, Leroy Sané, Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne
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