(Provided by Manchester Evening News)
All that stands between Manchester City and a domestic treble is Watford, a team who have lost all six of their previous meetings between the two teams.
Vincent Kompany expressed his desperation to win the FA Cup final during the post-match celebrations of City's second straight Premier League title win, while Pep Guardiola made sure his soundbites after the game reflected a desire to complete that treble and not settle for the already bagged double. Basically, Watford have a fairly tough 90 minutes to prepare for.
So, how will both teams approach this game tactically? © GettyFILE PHOTO (EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF IMAGES - Image numbers 73035843,960100528,1076550544,1141519827) In this composite image a comparison has been made between Javi Gracia, Manager of Watford (L) and Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City. Manchester City and Watford meet in the Emirates FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium on May 18, 2018 in London,United Kingdom. ***LEFT IMAGE*** BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Javi Gracia, Manager of Watford looks on prior to the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Watford FC at Vitality Stadium on January 2, 2019 in Bournemouth, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 09: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City looks on prior to the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on April 09, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Watford's preference for attacking through the middle
Brighton surrounded Ederson in the six-yard box from a corner, Glenn Murray snuck ahead of the front-post zonal marker and flicked a header past the goalkeeper to give Brighton a surprise lead. "We're the shortest team in the league," was Kompany's explanation for the opening goal in City's 4-1 win last week, and this is something Watford will be entirely aware of.
Troy Deeney brings an awful lot more to Javi Gracia's team than goals (nine in the Premier League) and assists (five). An aggressive, determined targetman, he uses his strength to bully centre-backs and ended up winning the fourth highest number of aerial duels (208) all season.
Kompany and Aymeric Laporte can expect a battle in the box when Watford are able to counter-attack, but might be more concerned that the Hornets have scored 12 league goals from set-pieces. © ReutersSoccer Football - Premier League - Watford v West Ham United - Vicarage Road, Watford, Britain - May 12, 2019 Watford manager Javi Gracia applauds their fans after the match REUTERS/Ian Walton EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.
Watford defended in a 4-5-1 the last time they played City, losing 3-1, and may decide to stick with what they're best at instead. Gracia is part of the growing trend of managers to use a 4-4-2, with two banks of four defending behind the ball, one striker as a target for outballs and another forward floating in behind.
Unlike older versions of the 4-4-2, Watford don't rely on wingers to hit crosses into the box. Instead, their width comes from full-backs - Jose Holebas has six league assists (second most at the club) from left-back - as the wide midfielders move to advanced central positions to attack in a 4-2-2-2. The defensive pair form a box with the centre-backs, covering for the full-backs and bringing the ball forward when able.
The attacking midfielders move out into channels when needed and the strikers do the same - especially Gerard Deulofeu - to pull defenders out of position.
All that movement is designed to let Watford attack through the middle of the pitch, something that can cause real damage against Man City's extremely wide shape when in possession. © GettyMANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 17: Manchester City's Pep Guardiola speaks during a press conference at Manchester City Football Academy on May 17, 2019 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Tom Flathers/Man City via Getty Images)
How Man City can use full-backs to win the midfield
Guardiola's side had 71 per cent of possession in the 3-1 win over Watford last time around and will almost certainly enjoy a similar share on Saturday. City's main concerns, as ever, will be how to open up a rigid, organised defence without leaving too few players back to deal with any mistakes made.
A high passing tempo is key, but how Gracia's side attacks, or counter-attacks, is relevant to what City do off the ball.
Watford's use of four central midfielders may prompt a small tweak in shape or personnel for City.
Guardiola always tries to gain numerical superiority in every part of the pitch and alters his side depending on the strengths and weaknesses of opponents, even if City are the overwhelming favourites for the match.
In these midfield battle games, Ilkay Gundogan often starts with Fernandinho to add more defensive cover, but the Brazilian might not be fit, leaving Gundogan as the only holding player available.
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Instead, Oleksander Zinchenko might take up central midfield positions when City move up the pitch. Two wingers will hug the touchlines, Sergio Aguero will prowl the penalty area and as the defence moves up to the halfway line, City's attacking shape will take form depending on how Watford are playing.
City's back four usually turns into a diamond at the back and the attackers make a W formation up top, but because Watford are dangerous through the centre, playing inverted full-backs helps block the spaces they might run to.
If Watford's width comes from full-backs, playing this shape makes it unlikely either of them will break beyond the press. The inverted full-backs can then follow Deeney or Deulofeu (or Andre Gray if he starts) moving out into the channel to prevent them receiving a forward pass.
All this will lead to domination of possession and an exhausted Watford side. City need only be patient for the inevitable mistake caused by tiredness to grab that crucial winning goal and secure a brilliant treble.
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