Football

Javi Gracia stands in Pep Guardiola's way

Watford manager hoping to deny fellow Spaniard's bid for an unprecedented English treble

Pep Guardiola is aiming to become the first manager to win an English domestic treble when his Manchester City side take on Watford in tomorrow's FA Cup final, but a fellow Spaniard stands in his way.

Watford manager Javi Gracia may not have the reputation that Guardiola enjoys in the game, but he has made his mark this season by guiding the Hornets to a creditable 11th-place finish in the English Premier League and only their second FA Cup final.

Gracia played for Athletic Bilbao's B team and Real Sociedad when Guardiola starred in midfield for Barcelona and, like the City boss, he was a deep-lying central midfielder.

But, while Guardiola began coaching with Barca, Gracia has worked at several lesser-known Spanish clubs before he moved to England after a spell with Russian club Rubin Kazan.

The 49-year-old makes no attempt to hide his admiration for Guardiola, who last Sunday succeeded in retaining the English Premier League title.

"Pep is the best in the Premier, yes. He is a very good manager and we have a good relationship. I don't speak with him many times but we have a good relationship," he said.

City beat Watford in both meetings in the league, 2-1 at Vicarage Road and 3-1 at the Etihad, but Gracia believes his team showed enough in those games to have hope they could pull off a surprise at Wembley.

"We lost both games but I think we showed that we can beat them. We competed really well in both games in different moments," he said.

"In the first game, we lost 2-1 but we competed until the end and had chances at the end.

"In the second one, we kept the result until the second half and then they scored from an offside position and the game changed. I think it showed us it's possible."

SECOND FA CUP FINAL

Watford's only previous FA Cup final appearance was 35 years ago when they lost 2-0 to Everton.

In contrast, City will be making their 11th appearance in the traditional finale to the English season and have won the competition five times, most recently in 2011.

City won the League Cup with victory over Chelsea at Wembley in February and, after wrapping up the EPL with a 14th straight league win at Brighton & Hove Albion last Sunday, history awaits with the elusive domestic treble.

"No teams in England have done that before, so we have to challenge, compete and be focused on this game," Guardiola said.

Another Spaniard - Watford's influential attacker Gerard Deulofeu - is available for the Wembley showdown despite his recent injury worries.

Meanwhile, Uefa's financial control body said yesterday it had referred City to an adjudicatory chamber for alleged breaches of financial fair play regulations.

Abu Dhabi-owned City said they were "disappointed but regrettably not surprised" by Uefa's decision.

City reportedly face a season-long ban from the Champions League if found to have breached the regulations. - REUTERS, AFP

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