Venue: Vicarage Road
Date: 21 May 2017
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Kick off: 15:00
How would you rate Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge? For those still undecided, Sunday’s trip to Vicarage Road may help you come to a conclusion. Manchester City wrap up their 2016-17 campaign against a Watford side in search of a new boss, with Walter Mazzarri to manage his final game after being given his marching orders during the week. And while it is just a case of getting the season over and done with for the hosts, there is plenty on the line for City.
City will qualify for the Champions League unless they lose, Liverpool win and Arsenal really win. The Gunners have a +31 goal difference compared to City’s +36, and host Everton, a team rarely on the wrong end of a battering. A win or possibly even a draw, depending on how badly Liverpool (+33 goal difference and two points behind) dismantle relegated Middlesbrough, would secure third place for the Blues. Besides £2 million extra in prize money, third place would also allow City to avoid another Champions League play-off fixture and send them straight into the group stage.
Are Watford already on holiday?
An encouraging sign for City is that Watford have recently forgotten how to win a game of football. They have lost their last five on the bounce, scoring in only one of them, there is talk of unrest against the outgoing Mazzarri, and they are safe from relegation. However, the one game in which they did find the net was their most recent when they put on quite the show against Chelsea, falling to a 4-3 defeat. Since then, Mazzarri’s end-of-season departure has been made official, so it is quite hard to know what to expect from them.
Will the Watford players give it their all in the final home game of the season, or in light of Mazzarri’s sacking are they already thinking of summer holidays in Barbados, Marbella and the Maldives? It may not take us long to find out once the game kicks off, but it would be nice for us, if not the Watford fans, if their players are already mentally on holiday. The bookies are predicting an easy City win and if you like a bet on football, you can get a City win at the short odds of 3/10. One for the weekend accumulator, maybe.
Goodbye for now or forever?
We’ve had a situation in recent years where we’ve not quite been sure if the likes of Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Touré would stick around for the following season. I remember at the final home game of the 2014-15 season, a 2-0 win over Southampton, where there was a lot of love from the crowd towards Yaya Touré, who was rumoured to be joining Inter Milan at the time – but no one was quite sure if it was a send-off. Will this be the year we finally bid adieu to one of Manchester City’s greatest players? Like in the previous two seasons, we just don’t know, with a new contract offer thought to be imminent, but his agent hinting at a move away.
Only Pablo Zabaleta is confirmed to be on his way out, but it’s not looking good for Willy Caballero, Gaël Clichy and Bacary Sagna. Jesús Navas has been offered a new deal, but is weighing up his options with a three-year contract on the table from his beloved Sevilla. And then there is uncertainty surrounding the likes of Fernando, Nolito, Kelechi Iheanacho and even Sergio Agüero, who despite his agent’s recent remarks, wants assurances about his role in Pep’s plans next season according to James Ducker of the Telegraph.
So more than ever, we don’t quite know who we’ll be saying goodbye to for the final time. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of Gaël Clichy, who, let’s admit it, is far from the required level at this point, he’s been at the Etihad for six years and played his part in some big moments, so it would have been nice to have some confirmation on these players.
The Epilogue of Pablo Zabaleta
I was in the South Stand for Pablo Zabaleta’s farewell against West Brom and it has been a very long time since I felt such genuine passion and emotion for a single player as there was for Zaba. Songs were altered to fit in Zaba’s name and new ones were made up on the go, as it was more or less a 90 minute singalong in tribute to the Argentine-Mancunian right-back. Once he did come on, every touch was met with boisterous cheers and his post-match farewell couldn’t have been any more perfect.
At the time, it was quite easy to forget that Zabaleta’s appearance off the bench may not have actually been his final performance in a City shirt. Could Guardiola give him one more run-out against Watford? My suspicion is that he will not start, and unlike on Tuesday night, when I think he’d have come on even if City were 3-0 down, any appearance at Vicarage Road may depend on the situation in the second half.
Just imagine, though, a Zabaleta winner in front of the traveling away support…
Watford’s attitude could determine the difficulty of this game, but even if they are fired up, I fancy Pep’s men to wrap up a strong run of performances with a win down south. With no fresh injury concerns, we should have too much firepower and the added motivation of securing third place.
I’m going for a resounding 4-1 win with Gabriel Jesus getting on the scoresheet.