the first domestic treble by any men’s team in history, and a thumping demonstration of how Manchester City have changed the outlook of English football.
To put it into context, when Vincent Kompany lifted their latest piece of silver it was the fifth time in the last 15 months they have taken possession of a major trophy. True, they might crave the European Cup, with all sorts of complications about their relationship with that competition. Domestically, however, their superiority is now complete, courtesy of what appeared to be a hat-trick from Raheem Sterling and one each for David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus, though the FA were crediting the last of that trio with Sterling’s first. If all three are eventually given to the England man then it will be the first hat-trick in an FA Cup final since Stan Mortensen in 1953.
For City, that makes it a clean sweep and, whatever slant anyone wants to put on it, it is a spectacular achievement. One that was probably inevitable at some point, 11 years into the Abu Dhabi masterplan, but spectacular, all the same.
Unfortunately for Watford, it was also a demonstration about the gulf that now exists between a team that have just won back-to-back Premier League titles and one that finished 10 places further back, 48 points worse off, playing in only their second final. Watford will not want to be patronised but, long before the end, it was difficult not to sympathise with Javi Gracia’s side. And City, being City, they kept on looking for more goals, showing little mercy against an accident-prone defence.
Guardiola did not even need to call upon Sergio Agüero for a single minute. Why should he when Jesus was playing with such menace? He was denied another goal by an offside flag but City should not be too greedy. This was the joint biggest win in any FA Cup final in history, emulating the six Bury put past Derby in 1903. And the biggest ever at Wembley.
That made it a difficult bittersweet day for those hordes of Watford fans who arrived with their yellow shirts and red flags, like the biggest tub of rhubarb and custard you have ever seen, and might even be bold enough in years to come to wonder what might have happened if Roberto Pereyra had taken an early chance to put them ahead and shape, in theory, a very different day, indeed.
Would it have made any difference to the eventual outcome? Hypothetical, perhaps, but you might think City would still have attached their ribbons to the trophy when they would have had 80 minutes to find a way back. All that can really be said is that it that was a glorious chance. Ederson, City’s goalkeeper, was quickly off his line, charging to the edge of the penalty area to block the shot with his feet. It was a splendid piece of goalkeeping and, after that, there was an air of inevitability about what happened next.
It finished as an exercise in damage-limitation for Watford, with a four-goal blitz in the space of 26 minutes City threatening to score every time they ran at the opposition defence. De Bruyne’s goal had come from one of those breakaways, running on to Jesus’s pass
De Bruyne returned the favour seven minutes later with the through ball for Jesus to make it 4-0 and Sterling then scored in the 81st and 87th minutes.
For everyone in Watford’s colours, these were demoralising moments. Particularly, though, their goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes, on what seems to have been his last appearance for the club. Gracia had decided to keep the Brazilian in the team because of his involvement in the previous rounds, as appears to be increasingly the etiquette in these competitions.
Whether it was the correct decision will be open to debate bearing in mind Gomes is ordinarily second choice to Ben Foster and, sadly for him, the harsh reality is that he came for a cross in the buildup to City’s second goal and never got there. As Gomes grasped at thin air, Jesus clipped the ball into the space the goalkeeper had vacated and Sterling followed in to make absolutely sure – which wasn’t difficult given the ball was already crossing the goal-line.
The cross for that goal was delivered by Bernardo Silva and his contribution for the opener should not be ignored, either. His tussle to win the ball off Abdoulaye Doucouré pitted together the smallest player on the pitch against his tallest opponent. Silva, who does not lack tenacity, came away with the ball and fed Jesus to fire in a shot that ricocheted off a couple of defenders and looped into the air. David Silva won the first header, Jesus got the next one, and that presented the Spaniard with the opportunity to take aim. A little nudge on Kiko Femenía helped create the space and Silva slashed his shot into the bottom corner.
The second half was an even worse ordeal for Watford. Sterling’s second came from Bernardo Silva’s cross and his hat-trick, set up by De Bruyne, was another one from close range. Three goals – and he was probably no more than four yards out for all of them put together. It was a cakewalk and, at 6-0, Guardiola had stopped celebrating. He looked vaguely embarrassed by the superiority of his team, the treble-winners.