By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Pep Guardiola is aiming to become the first manager to win an English domestic treble when his Manchester City side take on Watford in Saturday’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 Premier League and only their second FA Cup final.
Gracia played for Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad during the time when Guardiola was a player with Barcelona and like the City boss he was a deep lying central midfielder.
But while Guardiola began coaching with Barca, Garcia 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 on Sunday succeeded in winning his second straight 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 in December 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,” Gracia added..
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 thee English season and have won the competition five times, most recently in 2011.
City won the League Cup (Carabao Cup) with victory over Chelsea at Wembley in February and after wrapping up the Premier League with a 14th straight league win at Brighton & Hove Albion on 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.
With the final being City’s final game of the season, Guardiola has no need to rest any players while Watford are expected to have their influential Spanish winger Gerard Deulofeu available despite his recent injury worries.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond)