Under the spotlight: Pep Guardiola and Javi Gracia ahead of the FA Cup final
Two Spanish managers will undergo a tactical battle in the FA Cup final on Saturday as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City take on Javi Gracia’s Watford.
City beat Brighton 1-0 in the semi-final, while Watford had to work hard to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-2 in the other last-four clash.
Here’s how the two Spaniard’s shape up ahead of Saturday’s final.
Guardiola's tactical blueprint has brought a new dimension to English football. Using the goalkeeper, it involves patient building from the back but with many quick one-touch passes and an ability to launch a rapid attack in an instant. Full-backs move inside and forwards drop back when required. When out of possession the emphasis is on high pressing. With such high-calibre players, City have scored 163 goals in all competitions this season and possession figures upwards of 80 per cent in a game have not been uncommon.
Gracia, known as a deep tactical thinker, is also a proponent of high pressing but his team shape is slightly different, favouring a 4-4-2 with midfielders Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue providing bite. He has also bolstered the defence and utilised wide attacking players as well as skilful and effective forwards.
Some players have had issues with Guardiola over the years and others have not fitted his patterns, but many of those who buy into his vision have thrived. At City there are two obvious examples. Sergio Aguero - despite his prolific record - did not seem an obvious Guardiola player but he adapted his game and he is now even better for it. Faith has also been shown in Raheem Sterling amid wider criticism and his past two seasons have been outstanding. Others such as Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva have risen to new heights.
Gracia is known to operate a disciplined regime but with rules that players are normally willing to accept. His squad have clearly shown this season they respond to his methods.
Guardiola is contracted for two more seasons at City, which would take his spell at the club to five years. City would undoubtedly be keen to retain him longer, but there are no guarantees. Five years would be his longest managerial stint and, having previously spoken about wanting other experiences, he may opt to move on again.
Gracia's immediate future at Watford is secure after a hugely positive campaign but long term there is no certainty. The Hornets do not tend to keep faith with managers if things take a turn for the worse while, if things continue in the ascendancy, other clubs will be interested.
Words: Jake Evans