Manchester City were knocked out in the third round of last year’s FA Cup but will be confident of avoiding that fate this time around when they host Championship side Watford at the Etihad on Saturday (3pm GMT).
It was City’s local rivals United who ended the Citizen’s defence of their 2011 FA Cup triumph at the first hurdle and it is United who are also threatening to ruin their Premier League title defence this season.
City currently trail United by seven points at the top of the table, but can, of course, take solace from the fact they overturned an eight point deficit in the latter stages of last season to emerge as league champions on the final day of the campaign.
They also have no European football to distract them and can therefore concentrate fully on domestic matters, perhaps including a decent run in the FA Cup.
The Citizens were comfortable 3-0 winners at home to Stoke on New Year’s Day. Goals either side of half time from Pablo Zabaleta and Edin Dzeko – his third in two matches – set them on their way before Sergio Aguero finished the match off by converting a 74th minute penalty for his eighth goal of the campaign.
It was one of the few occasions this season when City have matched the almost robotic consistency with which they were able to slice through opposition defences last season, a campaign they finished with 93 goals. That same fluidity has often been lacking this season, with the club currently on course to finish the campaign with 19 or so less goals.
City’s attack is still the second-best in the division and therefore far from disastrous. But even in conjunction with the joint-best defensive record in the league it is not sufficient for them to keep pace with United, who have scored 13 more goals and have a goal difference four superior.
Mancini’s preparations for Saturday’s match were disrupted by a training ground brawl with Mario Balotelli on Thursday that must put the Italian striker’s participation in doubt. With Sergio Aguero sidelined due to a hamstring injury, that leaves Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko as City’s only striking options for the third round tie.
That is, of course, still a very potent partnership and one that should be capable of firing City to victory against an improving Watford side. Watford have brushed aside early season problems to move up into the Championship top six on the back of just two defeats in their last 12 matches.
The Hornets were taken over by the Italian Pozzo family, who also own Udinese and Spanish side Granada, in the summer. Gianfranco Zola was appointed as head coach and a number of players from the other two clubs were lent to Watford to assist their promotion bid.
Not all have been a success, and it took a little time for Zola to mould his ragtag collection of players into a cohesive unit, but there have been signs in recent months that the club are definitely on the right track. A playoff place now looks like a realistic goal, something that certainly did not appear the case following four defeats in their first six matches of the season.
Daniel Pudil and Almen Adbi have performed to a consistently high level, while the goals of young Czech striker Matej Vydra (12 in 22 appearances) have been vital to the side’s ascent into the top six. Vydra has formed a good partnership with Troy Deeney, a striker who joined the club in 2010 and went on a run of seven goals in six matches earlier this season.
Watford are among the highest scorers in the division, with 47 goals to date, but have not been as impressive defensively, conceding 36, including four in their 4-3 defeat at home to Charlton on New Year’s Day.
Zola has indicated that he will not resort to overly defensive tactics on Saturday, as by doing so he would simply be exposing the least competent area of his team to unnecessary pressure. His side will play with their usual focus on attack, potentially leaving them very open to the superior ability of City’s forwards.
Man City v Watford Betting Tips Conclusion
City are imperious at the Etihad and even if Mancini elects to rest some of his first team regulars they have enough quality throughout the squad to suggest that they should be able to comfortably defeat a Watford side whose defensive deficiencies are likely to be their undoing.
- Back Man City -2 on an Asian Handicap @ 8/11 with Paddy Power. If City win by two goals your stake is returned. If they win by more than two goals then the bet pays out
- Tevez is pretty much guaranteed to start and can be fancied to find the back of the net against a Championship defence. Back Carlos Tevez to score at anytime @ best odds of 8/11 with Betfred.