Well, wasn’t that easy.
Liverpool won on Matchday 38, forcing the celebrated Sky Blues of Manchester City to claim 3 points against Brighton and Hove Albion to secure the 2018-19 Premier League title. But the time Riyad Mahrez scored to make it 3-1 early in the 2nd half, visiting supporters at Falmer Stadium were ready to erupt.
Now the domestic triple, or “treble,” is in sight. The Football Association Cup final is this Saturday, and Citizens must only win once more to clinch an unprecedented triumph in English soccer.
The only problem is that Watford, City’s opponent on Saturday, could pose greater problems than Brighton did last weekend, even on a neutral pitch.
Watford presents more of a threat than the simple sum of its parts. Hornets is respected as a fine football club, full of talent and promising futures (excuse the pun, gamblers). But the underdog will also have another advantage – weeks and weeks of planning and focus on the showdown with City.
The upstart FA Cup finalists finished 11th with 14 wins in the Premier League this season, not too great, not too shabby. Their final Matchday opponent was West Ham, also a club with little to play for in league competition. Pride took over, and the squads fought to a 4-1 result for Hammers. But mentally, Hornets are already in the dressing room at Wembley Stadium and have been for a while.
That’s the beauty of the FA Cup. Not every “minnow” can be said to hail from Championship or League One. There are also Premiership clubs that probably have no business making the final. But once qualified, a middling EPL squad can focus all energy – including that of its community and supporters’ groups – on one evening in London.
Man City enjoys many luxuries in 2019. Singleness-of-focus hasn’t been one of them…until now.
Manchester City vs Watford: Citizens Take 2 Titles Prior to 5/18
There is some controversy on Wikipedia over whether a “true” English treble is still the FA Cup, the Premiership, and the UEFA Champions League trophies, even with the Carabao Cup attaining some kind of significance in the UK landscape.
It’s not as if the EFL Cup was easier for City to win matches in than other competitions. As in Football Association play, many Premiership squads go with “B” lineups when the bracket is huge. But by the semifinals of ‘19 it was all business, as evidenced by Tottenham’s controversial legs against Chelsea.
Finally, the final came down to a keeper’s duel between Kepa and Ederson.
In contrast, it seemed as if the schedule gave Man City a clear path to the Premiership title. Liverpool and City kept winning and winning in what has to be one of the more-impressive dual-sprints in Premier League memory, but a Matchday 38 draw against Seagulls – a squad with as many injury problems as Citizens – woke up a sleeping giant with a goal halfway through the 1st half.
Supporters screamed for a brave stand and a lead at half, but Sergio Agüero was lurking. Once the Argentine striker answered it was katy-bar the door for the underdog.
It’s also a win-win-win scenario that Liverpool and Tottenham have each pulled-off comeback wins to advance to the Champions League final. Fans can claim City’s domestic titles just don’t have the same flair without a UEFA title to match, but a pair of Premier League clubs are in the final at Wanda Metropolitano and Manchester City is clearly the best team in the Premiership.
There’s no more doubt that the Premiership is the deepest league in Europe, and that there are more world-class teams from England than from anywhere else on the planet. Who will win the oldest trophy in the Kingdom by winning its strongest tournament?
FA Cup Odds – Line Movement and Comparisons
City is a (-476) favorite, while the website gives Watford (+1073) to prevail in regulation or extra minutes. How’s that for a couple of nice round numbers?
The goal spread offers a reasonable (-102) payout if only Hornets somehow prevent a 2-goal loss. The Over/Under is (3) goals with the house taking a much-fatter % of Over bets (-129).
A look back to our original FA Cup final preview from April 9th offers a handy chance to look at line movement. BetOnline was giving (-417) on Citizens at the time. Has that line jumped since heroic center back Aymeric Laporte scored the winner against Seagulls on Sunday?
Not necessarily. There’s certainly been a long-term trend of favorites’ moneyline takers, many of whom are perhaps backing-up their FA Cup futures betting slip with a little extra gambit at the end. There isn’t much in the way of value on BetOnline’s current (-476) line on Man City due to the high risk and low reward. (Incidentally the ML matches MyBookie’s odds on City exactly.)
Sportsbetting.ag and BetOnline are each offering a (+105) payoff on City winning by 3+ goals with a (-2) spread.
Citizens would have an advantage in penalty kicks and will likely prevail on penalties if forced to. If I’m gambling on City to win, it’s a great big bundle o’ stake on the Sky Blues “lifting the trophy” at (-900) payoff odds at BetOnline. The question is whether Watford’s line of (+1000) is too long compared to their X-in-Y chances for the upset.
Hornets Facing 1st Elite Opponent of Tourney
One issue I have with taking Watford’s (+1000) moneyline is that Hornets haven’t faced anything like Manchester City while on route to the FA Cup final.
The underdogs certainly deserve credit for a courageous run through the bracket. Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu were masterful in the club’s miracle upset of Wolves in the semifinal.
Heck, you could even have set the entire scene to Coldplay.
But look at who else Hornets had to contend with from the 3rd round onward. Crystal Palace was a tough quarterfinal opponent that fought to a 1-goal result, but that match was at Vicarage Road. Watford’s 3 road victories in the previous 3 rounds came against Woking, Newcastle United, and QPR.
It’s not that we know Watford doesn’t have a chance in 10 to win on Saturday. Golden Boys are simply an unknown quantity against elite clubs at this point. The most-difficult recent Premier League opponents for the side have been Arsenal and Chelsea, and Gunners and Blues won those fixtures by a combined 4 goals to nil.
I have no doubt that a healthy and dedicated City lineup can wallop Hornets early and put any upset talk to rest. But do the Sky Blues enjoy anything approaching complete health as Saturday approaches?
Manchester City Injury Updates
2 key injuries in midfield have made Man City’s run to 2/3rds of the grail even more astounding. Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne missed weeks with a spring hamstring injury and is currently making headlines for his wit and not his striking. Fernandinho has been ailing as well, putting stress on a position that factors largely in every one of Pep’s game plans.
But neither of the wounds have proven fatal. De Bruyne is back on the pitch and could be close to 100% for Saturday’s contest. According to Guardiola, his Brazilian star (or one of them) has an “outside” chance to play against Watford as well.
There hasn’t been much news on Fernandinho this week, however, which leads me to believe his potential presence is just a decoy. It’s not as if there’s not plenty of talent to replace anyone missing from the City midfield as long as it’s just a single key player.
İlkay Gündoğan scored against Brighton, for instance, a veteran of Nationalelf and a finer midfielder than just about anyone in the Watford organization even without being one of the most highly-touted footballers in Manchester.
Don’t Miss the Forest for the…Trunk
It’s also important to address an elephant in the room – that the last time Manchester City wound up in the FA Cup final, the club lost to Wigan Athletic in one of the biggest shockers ever.
The memories are too distant to affect the outcome on Saturday. But could the trepidations of punters who are hesitant to put down another 500 donuts on City this time be holding the spread and the O/U down a little bit?
I would love any gamble on a (3) O/U line that doesn’t involve 20% or 30% going to the house. The chances that Pep will use his superstar-studded attack to keep Watford’s counters at bay rule-out a hard and fast prediction of a 4-0 or 5-1 result.
But you can’t let go of a solid hunch, and I’m thinking the main factor that dragged-down City’s attacking totals over the past several weeks was fatigue and the punishment of long campaigns in the Premier League and the Champions League.
All that business is over now. The Sky Blues might not just look scary on paper, but rather play like unstoppable ghouls once again given the relief and rest of the end of the EPL season.
Recommended Bet for the FA Cup Final
I’m liking the Over (3) at any sportsbook that offers it at better than (-120) payoff odds.
But based on the price, not the number, the favorites’ spread is currently the best gambit.
Manchester City is likely to look newly revitalized in its quest…and will be way too much for a club that’s run out of also-rans to play at Wembley Stadium.