Dubai: Manchester City may have seen off their toughest challenge in the recent past on Sunday when they claimed the Premier League trophy by beating Brighton 4-1 to deny Liverpool by a single point, but Pep Guardiola and his men in light blue have no time to rest on their laurels as they aim to become the first team in English football league history to claim the domestic treble.
Back-to-back titles are in the bag — the first time that has been achieved since Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United 10 years ago; a record-breaking 100-point season last time out has been followed up in astonishing style by amassing 98 this time round under severe pressure from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Fourteen wins in a row have been racked up to keep the relentless Reds at bay.
But still there is more to come.
Guardiola will lead his men into battle one final time this season — sadly, not in Madrid for the Champions League final, where Premier League bridesmaids Liverpool take on Tottenham — when they face Watford at Wembley for the FA Cup on Saturday at 8pm UAE time.
A simple enough task on paper for a Guardiola machine that has defeated every side in the Premier League for the second season in a row — the last time that was accomplished by Preston in 1890, the aeroplane had not been invented.
During those two domineering campaigns, City clocked up an eye-watering 198 points and banged in 201 goals in the process. So the treble is in the bag, right?
Not quite. Cast your mind back to 2012 when Ben Watson scored the only goal of the FA Cup final against City to allow Wigan Athletic to lift the trophy in a season when they were also relegated from the Premier League. That took a long time for City fans to live down and arguably cost manager Roberto Mancini his job, as he was sacked the following week and replaced by Manuel Pellegrini.
A one-off final is entirely different to a 38-game season and the underdogs are always up for a fight, knowing that one slip can make all the difference. City have also had a long, tough season reaching two finals in England and the quarter-finals in the Champions League.
Watford have a few issues of their own to contend with ahead of the clash. They will appeal the red card Jose Holebas received in the Premier League defeat to West Ham hoping they will get it rescinded so he can play in the final. Also, form is a problem for the Hornets. They have just one win in their last six matches — and the 4-1 home thrashing by West Ham saw their opponents leapfrog them to finish in 10th. Such a big loss will do little to boost their confidence ahead of the biggest game of their season.
While all that would be good news for City and Guardiola, the Spaniard is too wise and too experience to even think about taking his foot off the gas this week. He has moulded a unit — a family — of professionals who fight for each other until the last minute of every game, so it shouldn’t be too hard for him to get his men to give their all for one more game, given that another trophy is at stake and the chance to make history and a place in the record books.
He put it well himself on Sunday. “We are so, so tired,” he said after the win against Brighton that secured the Premier League title. “But at the same time winning gives you a lot of energy. It’s so addictive. We have the FA Cup and we are ready to compete against Watford.”
It is also a massive game for captain Vincent Kompany as it may be his final match in a City shirt, with the skipper out of contract in the summer and no decision yet made on his future. Kompany, whose thunderbolt against Leicester City on Monday for a 1-0 win was critical to their title push, said: “I’m desperate, desperate, desperate to win the FA Cup next week.
“You don’t even know how much it’s a priority. We’ll celebrate the title and then after that it’ll be all about the final next Saturday and we’ll do everything we can to win this game which is so important to us.”
There will be no doubt that.