City Watford.

I suppose this was historic – let the stattos go on about that. I suppose we need to talk about how this happened – meaning how City engineered this (excuse the pun) gulf. And perhaps too, we will need to recalibrate the meaning of this massacre after the financial inquiries are complete. But whilst we are of course entitled to question both the status of City as a club and the legitimacy and honesty of their processes, it feels churlish to mither away at anything happening on the pitch.

Some are saying there is a blandness about City: maybe the Overwhelming Foreign Wedge implies that? As does the sometime listlessness around their home fixtures? Maybe the Catalonian sub-state that is the Management Team will always feel adrift from the original, the real City of the Moss-side alleyways? That might figure.

But Guardiola – from an admittedly high base – has built a wonderful and generally wonderfully fluent football team. A team waaaay too good for all but one other side in this allegedly abundant, allegedly competitive Premier League. Crucially, for me, a team that has had the poet and craftsman David Silva at its beating heart: a team for the skilled and the bright and the creative. A team – with all due respect – at an utterly different level to their opponents yesterday.

In short I’m with Guardiola in the sense that I can separate the ‘issues’ away. He is special. He is a great coach despite those embarrassing riches. His team is magnificent and his legacy in terms of how the game is played is a rich, progressive and beautifully true one. Financial cheating will of course compromise that appreciation – but not deny it.

Here’s how the game was, live…

 

“Abide With Me”. And Tony Book. Sentimental, both, for me but the one kindof glossed-up and the other even more silver-topped than myself, now. Because times do change.

Wemberley has changed, too, of course, since my old man wrote to Tony Book (by then City’s manager) a lifetime ago. The Old Lady of Norf Landun got glossed-up too – and by the sound of things, got fitted up with oversize speakers, to accommodate the ludicrously deafening ‘Announcements’.

But enough of the humbuggery. In sunshine, as so often, this All-New-Again FA Cup Final offers much – or we begin (again) with that feeling around: hope.

City though, are a force that may smash that weirdly-engineered optimism: they are patently in a different league from the waspish underdogs and maybe the butterflies I’m feeling are more to do with that?

First five minutes and Watford *actually do have* the ball. They are somewhere between medium-wasteful and okay with it however – which is good enough, in terms of maintaining the contest.

Ten minutes and rather fascinatingly, nobody on either side has done enough to suggest they’ve settled. Interestingly too, and probably worryingly, the blokes in yellow are setting out two Deep Blocks and challenging their illustrious opponents to thread something through them.

But hold on, in the eleventh minute, with City’s central defence alarmingly absent, Watford should score. Zinchenko is careless, Pereyra is IN… but fails to convert. City respond time and again, through Mahrez. He looks ready… until he passes lamely into touch.

Mercifully, it’s not one-way traffic and we do have a game.

Guardiola will not be satisfied with City’s opening; possession, yes but little in the way of fluency or sustained retention. More than that, Watford have looked as threatening as the typically irresistible sky-blues.

Again Watford threaten. They are maybe unfortunate not to get a pen as the ball strikes Kompany’s arm. But the City skipper is doing pretty much everything to keep offending limbs out of the way – so I’m with the ref. And, rightly, Kevin Friend books Doucoure for an appallingly passionate appeal.

Then City score. It’s a Sunday Leaguer – almost entirely out of character. The perennially gorgeous David Silva scuff-driving in a shot after some crappy head-tennis and the odd air-shot. They don’t deserve it; they don’t have anywhere near their usual level of control… and they don’t care. 1-0.

Wide left is looking like it might be City’s ace – or wide right! But whilst we know Mahrez will beat people and therefore always remain a ‘factor’, Zinchenko is still offering strangely mixed contributions, surging then underachieving.

It may not matter. The domination that all neutrals and all Hornets feared is settling over the game. And it’s 2-0. Bernado curls a beauty round and through and Jesus studs it in… via Sterling’s triumphant hoof. (One for the dispassionate – i.e. in the videozone – to decide upon, that).

In truth the keeper, Gomes, may have done better but the pass was a one of a limited number of clear signals, early doors, that the Champions of Everything might outclass Watford here. Not sure Watford *generally* major in Classy Footie (without being critical) but they have to make something happen now – anyhow, anyway. Deulofeu has shown well enough, but Deeney and Pereyra have lacked presence and maybe the confidence to take responsibility, should it arise.

As half-time approaches, it seems more likely that the gathering Gundogan\Silva/Bernado axis will unpick Watford centrally and possibly embarrass the challengers in the way they’ve embarrassed most, this year. As the whistle breaks, a very big team-talk for Javi Garcia begins. This may be done already.

Lively start for the second period. Deulofeu might score, Jesus might score/does score (disallowed) and the energy in the occasion is lifted. Strangely, Mahrez is withdrawn for de Bruyne. Has he said something to displease the gaffer? Is this just a result of Guardiola’s dissatisfaction with what feels like a seven-out-of-ten performance? (Mahrez has been good-ish).

On the hour de Bruyne is in… and exorcises his customary, obscenely-worldie levels of composure, ten yards out, where most capitulate to hurrying, scurrying and sheer nose-bleeding panic, before finding the corner. Eek. This could be humiliating.

Watford needed a hero – or 12. Whilst nobody seems to be utterly frozen, or utterly lost in Maresville, they can’t find what they need.

Jesus can. He makes it four, in the 67th. A truly great side, without yet playing to their max, are now running away with it. De Bruyne should curl another one in with his left foot in the 69th. Somewhere, Elton John is distractedly tinkling out another melancholy riff.

That the introduction (with all due respect) of Cleverley for Hughes – and Sane for Gundogan – comprises the 70-minute changing-of-the-guard, says most of what needs to be said. Different strata.

No disgrace here, for Watford – though they have been a clear disappointment – but note they have not faced Aguero and actually Sterling has barely had a kick (until he gets that weekly far-post tap-in; 5-0) … and so they cannot realistically compete… and they don’t. 80-odd minutes and I’m still not sure this is much more than a 7/10 performance from City; they’re that good.

From nowhere an arguably ungenerous observation. At the semi-final stage, I really wanted Wolves to come through, in part because I was sure they would test City more than Watford would, or could. We’ll never know but my hunch is that they have more quality and more tactical nous than their mid-table compadres.

I may be indulging here because there really is now a void where the contest should be. Sterling has grabbed a sixth. Yes. It’s 6-0. Guardiola looks mildly embarrassed. Or somehow melancholy. Or awed, perhaps?

Stones – yes, Stones! – should score from yet another break instigated by de Bruyne, who has changed the game, despite looking less than fully mobile, I would say. But you see, de Bruyne is that good.

Manchester City 6 Watford 0.

Cup Feeling

The ‘build-up’ to the FA Cup Final – how long? Did somebody not bother to tell ITV that – ludicrously – the kick-off was hoiked back to accommodate god-knows-what-or-who? So they started blathering about lunch-time as usual and just kept on, presumably with the producer making windmill signs and mouthing just keepit going!! until kick-off arrived aeons later. By which time the TV audience is so bloated with nacho-consumption they’ve lost the will to live, or on the lager equivalent are so paralytic they think Roy Keane is Simon C and that the big girl’s blouse up front for Chelsea is Aleesha D. I had twigged (LOL?) we were evolving into a dumbed-down species of highlight-obsessed couch-spuds but… c’mon people.
More seriously – like hoogely/anthropologically importantly – does anyone have that real Cup Feeling anymore, I wonder? The one where dressing rooms around the isle go quiet as the radio chunters out the draw? Or where small boys skip joyfully round the living room on hearing ‘Liverpool away?’  Do they?  When the semi’s are played at Wembley? When most of the playing participants did not (now) grow up with this gorgeous fervour – indeed nobody, I suspect, grows up with it now in the way that we did – when it meant something?

How could it be the same when the powers that be schedule the kick-off for tea-time? Tea-time being – in terms of world history never mind the FA Cup – a footie-free zone in much the same way that Christmas Day, to my pretty certain knowledge, is a pancake-free festival. So audible harrumph here and like… what is occurring?
An Opening Ceremony, that’s what! With a magnificently appropriate (i.e. sickeningly glammed up) Abide With Me cherrying the naff freezer-cake. If only those flash geysers of flame that puncture the skies of North West London as the players begin their arrogant, or humble, or nervous walk to the pitch could be toppled sideways, torching the chavvy pomp of it mid-chew of its pineapple Wrigleys.
But okay the game, the game. No surprises that Fernando is on seat-warming duty again for Drogba; only this time he is genuinely unfortunate, having finally suggested the artist/striker formerly known as Torres may be cracking that hard horny eggshell. Chelsea start better. Predictably perhaps, a whiff of Sunday League from the red midfield leads to an early goal for Ramires, as Spearing’s poor touch leaves an opening. Chelsea’s burst forward is converted by the baldy-pacy-wiry one after Reina leaves his near post a tad exposed. On balance, 1-0 at the half-hour mark about right.
Chelsea seem more composed, more purposeful, less nervous. Pretty early, the sense from Liverpool fans is that they anxiously yearn rather than hope for more than mere possession; they want the ball to threaten; it doesn’t. As things develop – or not – a moment of haplessness again seems more likely than a moment of inspiration from any of the five strung across midfield. And the red support groans. Even Gerrard has that pallid look; things don’t link. We all think of the league table. The game eases to half-time.
The second chunk mirrors the first in the sense that Chelsea get a desperately easy goal – Drogba this time the beneficiary. Lampard has threaded a pass too comfortably and the Ivorian thesp has turned merely adequately and scuffed a left-foot shot through Skrtel’s legs beyond Reina. The kind of goal that turns your stomach as fan/manager/nutmeg recipient. The thought arises that Chelsea might get 4 if say Kalou was something like.
However, he ain’t. And neither – famously – has been that lanky no.9 for Liverpool. Yet on he comes, quite rightly, though not altogether in the expectation that he will change the game. Out of absolutely nothing, the ball breaks to the much maligned one in the Chelsea box. He proceeds to calmly – if slightly laboriously, if this is possible? – skin John Terry before lashing into the roof of the net. Thus the Pool go from the verge of a hammering to the lip of glory in a transformative, pony-tail bobbing slo-mo.
We, the extra-tribal to this fest, like this; partly because Carroll has at least something boyish about him, something naive, despite that clearly inadequate, over-fussed and ill-advised barnet. (But most Top Players have those, right?) He looks, on this occasion – very much to his credit – like someone who both understands and cares about the FA Cup and it’s great, actually, that he (that?) makes a difference.

This variously described giraffe/dinosaur/hetero-retro-centreforward comes on here to course about in a convincing, even occasionally lung-bursting fashion. He heads things; he frightens the metaphorical horses; he scores and has one spookily adjacent; so adjacent the post-match stuff and much of the next twenty years on Merseyside will be dominated by that particular header. If another 16 camera-angles go on to ‘prove’ that it was a save from Cech, it will rank with that Montgomery moment for Sunderland, thereby making a legitimate contribution to Cup History.
In short, Liverpool were awful then courtesy of Carroll, right back in it. They pressed for an equaliser and it never came. Henderson busied himself to almost no effect, Gerard and Suarez were ineffective to the point of listless. Elsewhere Kalou yet again showed his almost complete package of inadequacies, squandering opportunities to break and to score as Chelsea faded with the unity and purpose they had shown earlier, under the red but B Category crypto-onslaught. The final score, at 2-1 to Chelsea, was absolutely right, assuming that non-goal was correctly called. So… cue that further debate.
Despite its limitations – its obvious lack of fluency and relative vervelessness – a better final emerged than the lousy fare generally served up for this particular showpiece. Few moments of quality, none of significant shame. Chelsea in the first period cruising at a level unlikely to be attained by their opposition, you felt, but Liverpool honourably competitive at the ‘death’. No Torres. Drogba – who was again present rather than good in my opinion (sorry – IMO) and who again was greedy rather than generous, will collar most headlines… along with a disappointed rather than a disappointing Carroll.
Many Blues won’t be stopping too long to contemplate their underachievement in the second period but some will. Because running counter to the silvered but shallow and nonsensical time-shifting from the FA and …whoever, and despite the pre-match evidence for age-relevant Olympic-smudged taste-shafting, there is an appreciation of quality alive in the game. Fans want to win but they want to drape themselves in some association with glory too – implying something wonderful as well as and beyond winning. The nature of the cup – this FA Cup, this proper cup! – is conducive to that magic, making it precious. So less of the tampering, eh?