One team is looking to complete an unprecedented domestic treble, bolstering its status as possibly the greatest ever in English soccer. The other is trying to capture a major trophy for the first time.
For either Manchester City or Watford, this FA Cup final will come to represent a landmark moment in their respective clubs’ history.
Many, though, can only see Saturday’s match at Wembley Stadium going one way.
City, already the Premier League and League Cup champion, is the undoubted favorite to cap what would be a historic season with a third domestic trophy. Or fourth, if you ask City manager Pep Guardiola, who is also keen to add the Community Shield – a preseason contest between the reigning league and FA Cup winners – to his roll of honor.
The FA Cup was the trophy that launched City’s rise as the modern-day soccer superpower in England. Winning it in 2011, by beating Stoke 1-0, ended a 35-year wait for silverware for a club that lived for so long in the shadow of neighbor Manchester United but was ready to make serious strides, backed by money from its Abu Dhabi ownership.
Eight years later, the team is back in the final and seeking to win its 10th major trophy in this decade.
“We’re very hungry to make something different for this club,” City playmaker Bernardo Silva says.
Given that winning the treble would be such a remarkable feat, it has slightly gone under the radar this week.
First, there was the fallout from the sensational Premier League title race, which saw City edge Liverpool to first place by a point at the weekend after winning its last 14 games in a row.
There came further developments in UEFA’s investigation into alleged financial wrongdoing by City, which could yet land it a one-year ban from the Champions League – the competition that still eludes the club. City is suspected of breaking rules that monitor commercial income and spending on player transfers and wages, in particular disguising revenue from commercial deals secured by the club’s owners.
The case threatens to mar City’s success on the field, with many saying the team isn’t on a level playing field with the rest.
Watford certainly looks overmatched going into the final.
The Hornets, as they are nicknamed, have been swatted aside in recent years by City, which has won each of their last 10 meetings by an aggregate score of 32-6.
Watford has finished runner-up in the top flight once, in 1983, and lost the FA Cup final a year later in its only previous appearance. That was in the era when musician Elton John was chairman and former England coach Graham Taylor was manager.
Under Spanish coach Javi Gracia, Watford has been harder to beat – even if an 11th-placed finish in the Premier League, after ending the campaign with three straight losses, doesn’t really show it.
“Everyone says we have zero chance,” Watford midfielder Etienne Capoue says, “… everyone says Man City is a top team, everyone thinks they are going to win it easily.
“It is normal for them to win every game, but we are going to try, we are going to give everything. Nobody expects us to give a good game, but I think we are in a good position because of that.”
Watford is boosted by the availability of left back and chief set-piece taker Jose Holebas, who had a red card overturned on appeal from the 4-1 loss to West Ham on Sunday.
And it will take heart from City’s last appearance in an FA Cup final, in 2013 when it lost to Wigan in one of the biggest shocks in the competition’s recent history.
But that was in the pre-Guardiola era. City’s standards have risen sharply since then, the team becoming a ruthless, winning machine that collected 198 points across the last two league campaigns.
City will also want to give a winning send-off to its captain Vincent Kompany, who is likely to be playing his last game for the club after 11 years of service.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.