I’m excited to have found what I believe is the most crucial angle for ‘capping the upcoming Manchester City vs Watford battle for the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium.
The only problem is that it flies in the face of my recent analysis of City betting lines.
Our blog has reminded bettors that manager Pep is a skilled tactician, so skilled that the club can appear to be hitting a wall offensively when it is instead simply waiting for opponents to make mistakes. The Sky Blue attack forces so many precautions and compromises on enemy midfielders and backs that the team is afforded the luxury of patience. City is content to score 1 or 2 goals when Ederson posts a clean sheet, but that doesn’t tell us anything about the O/U outcome of the next fixture.
City’s 1-0 FA Cup semifinal win over Brighton on Saturday further reinforced that fact. Soccer gambling sites took in a nice chunk on lost “Over” bets from goal-frenzy prognosticators, who were thrilled in the opening moments only to slump in their chairs in the 2nd half. On the other hand, it’s not like the Seagulls could have beaten City once in 5 tries.
As the smoke clears from a dramatic semifinal at Wembley on Sunday, however, it may be time for a shift in perspective. Watford, not City, is full of momentum after winning a 3-2 corker over Wolverhampton. It was the unlikely Hornets, not the Sky Blues, who produced the most breathtaking attacking football of the previous round.
City won’t die from a clean sheet-against on May 18th. That seems like almost a given. The question is whether Watford’s speed, determination, and quality striking is enough to overwhelm an elite roster that not only could score goals on just about any World Cup squad, but for which grinding, physical defense goes hand-in-hand with talent and pricey contracts.
If Watford can’t score, the outcome will not be in doubt.
FA Cup Final: Early Betting Odds From Online Sportsbooks
The other “angle” I’d like to take today is using multiple bookmakers to compare lines and vibe-out what types of props and specials might start to be available on the Emirates FA Cup.
Making a final Grand High Exalted Prediction and recommending a decisive wager would be rude with 5-6 weeks to go. The timing of bets placed on huge sporting events like the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby and the FA Cup Final is a personal matter.
I don’t mean everyone should undergo Vulcan meditation first or something – the dangers of over-handicapping can be very real. But these galas are social gambling events too, and if you’re raising money from pals for a sizable group wager, you don’t need bloggers yelling at everyone to hurry up. There is plenty of time and there are plenty of angles…and hopefully lots of markets.
Our soccer blog has also given BetOnline a lot of grief for posting so many Asian Handicap lines. I’ve got to give the sportsbook credit, though – BetOnline always posts complete match lines on any upcoming tournament fixture within days or hours of the previous round.
Bovada Sportsbook and MyBookie appear to be choosing not to offer betting odds on the final yet, which removes a valid option for the smart gambler looking for an advantage in timing.
Evaluating the BetOnline ML, Spread and O/U for May 18th
Man City’s moneyline is just long (or less-short) enough to potentially prompt a rush of betting action for the favorites over the next few weeks.
The bookmaker has attached (-417) payoff odds on the Sky Blues to win without a penalty-kick shootout. Watford is (+775) and a Draw result comes with a (+460) payoff to successful speculators.
BetOnline’s goal spread (City (-1 ½)) is a fool’s errand on either side. The semifinals of the very tournament we’re looking at established once again that Citizens are pleased to protect a 1-goal lead if the opponent can barely muster an accurate shot. At the same time, an early Watford goal on Saturday 5/18 could result in Pep turning his demonic attack loose, and the favorites won’t let off the pedal once goals start piling up. City’s standard 4-3-3 formation has a lot of elasticity.
If you take City against the (-1 ½) spread, you’ll be stressed out early and potentially late in the match. If you take Watford against the Hornets’ (+1 ½) spread, there’s no reason to get excited about an early 1-0 lead since it means an atomic bomb could be about to go off on the pitch.
The Hornets have a better shot at an upset bid by playing possum and scoring a miracle go-ahead in the late-going.
We appreciate the straightforward Western Hemisphere goal spread, BetOnline, but the number you picked out just won’t work for anybody. Too much random chance involved.
The Over/Under (2 ½, 3) is not a clever market for the bettor for reasons already discussed. Ice hockey fans understand the peril of gambling on a team that dials-up a crushing attack when and only when it is necessary to do so.
Anyone remember the Pat Burns era of the Toronto Maple Leafs? They rarely took a lead until the 3rd period but answered every goal-against before the crowd could sit down. Wayne Gretzky finally vanquished them in a Conference final by scoring so many goals so fast that the Maple Leafs lost count of how many they were supposed to retaliate with.
This Manchester City team is kind of like that, except Pep knows better than to corral Sergio Agüero and Raheem Sterling once the floodgates are open. The Sky Blues often look sleepy on the pitch, only to score 3 or 4 unanswered goals once an opponent bothers them in any way.
Back to that moneyline. Some London books are currently offering “1/3,” or the equivalent of (-300) on City to win 11-on-11. That line just doesn’t look short enough. (-417) on the state-side market could be dubious, so why even tighter odds from the bookies who know the English talent best?
Pomp and Circumstance
Hornets are prepared to put everything they have into the FA Cup. Watford has been competent enough in the Premier League to hover at .500, good for 10th place. 10th place in the Premier League after Matchday 30 doesn’t mean that the club won’t want to win every appearance, but there’s little reward for triumphs and not much punishment for losses.
The top 5 squads on the table will make the Champions League or the Europa League next season – that’s not going to happen for Watford. The cellar clubs are in danger of relegation and must go all-out to avoid slipping into the Championship tier. Javi Gracia’s team has no such emergency.
Nor is Watford alive in any other competition. No wonder London bookmakers are nervous to give the match any kind of hyperbolic betting line. Hornets are about to become an “FA Cup team” as opposed to “a Premier League team.” The EPL matches will be a backdrop in preparation.
Such laser-beam focus was already on display in the semifinal round on Sunday. It was undoubtedly the squad’s work ethic that allowed Hornets to win the ball deep in Wolves territory so often, and the leadership of striker Troy Deeney was crucial in the match long before his added-time equalizer.
This clip actually includes a great shot of the Deeney penalty goal and supporters’ reaction, probably because the Wolves supporter we’ll call “Howard Dean” (Yeeeeeeeeeaaahhh!) is too sad about the Hornet comeback to jerk the camera around once again.
Once Deeney gave his beloved club a drawn score and a surge of adrenalin for the last skirmish, he stepped aside for Gerard Deulofeu to score the dramatic winner. Deulofeu had already netted a brilliant bender to get a desperate Watford side back in the match in the 78th minute.
OH MY GOODNESS!
The bend on this from Gerard Deulofeu ? pic.twitter.com/Up9QJD9Xeo
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 7, 2019
Watford came back from 2-0 down to beat Wolves 3-2 and book a place in the #FACup final
This goal from Gerard Deulofeu in extra time completed the comeback ?pic.twitter.com/9Tu1qcWPjQ
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) April 7, 2019
Like all clubs going up against City, Watford will take precautions. The 2-pronged attack of Deeney and forward Andre Grey might remain in place, but don’t expect marginal defenders to venture too close to City’s box too often in the 1st half.
Watford’s backline is experienced and will know what to do. The problem is that this will be no kind of classic gritty underdog vs snooty aristocrat type of meeting.
Manchester City is one heck of a gritty favorite. The London bookies are overlooking the Sky Blues’ versatility and mental toughness in setting 1/3 odds.
Furthermore it’s strange how bookmakers can miss the obvious. Yes, there will be a lot of buzz and anticipation surrounding the event. Yes, both sides will be under pressure. “Anything can happen,” “Momentum tells the tale,” choose your cliché. But the soccer ball doesn’t know that. Only the players do…and City appears most prepared off all to deal with it.
Man City: Bride With a Dark Side
You could go up to a random college soccer field during a match and put up a sign, “The FA Cup Final.” It wouldn’t change the outcome at all. The only way that the ceremony and stakes of an FA Cup can impact the outcome is if it impacts the psychology of the athletes.
While the Hornets do have a singular shot at glory to focus on, it’s not as if City won’t have anything to play for. Citizens are still potentially in line for a quadruple in 2019.
No one can come close to winning 4 domestic and UEFA competitions in a single season without paying the price. City played like a meat-and-potatoes club against Brighton, collecting double-digit fouls and trusting that any Seagulls’ free kicks would go nowhere. With very few exceptions the Citizens defended all opposing set-pieces impeccably.
Meanwhile, Gabriel Jesus scored the winning goal before breaking a serious sweat.
It’s not as if City is trotting around the pitch in arrogant fashion, waiting to be out-hustled and out-classed like Brazil in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. If it weren’t for the incredible goal scoring, the Sky Blues would still be known as a world-class defending team with an edgy streak.
The Watford-Wolves semifinal showed that Hornets are dangerous against a solid backline if given enough ball possession. But when midfielders like De Bruyne are willing to lay down in front of opposing rushes and tumble into barriers fighting for contested balls, it does more than make the favorites’ prodigious attacking skills all the more deadly.
It keeps opponents from playing with the ball.
Watford won’t connect on many clever passes against City – those attempts will simply lead to more anxious defending. Hornets enjoyed more ball possession by the time the epic comeback over Wolves began than the club likely will in 90+ or 120+ minutes at Wembley Stadium.
FA Cup Final: Early Moneyline Lean and Strategy
Watch for the lines at Bovada Sportsbook and MyBookie (especially) when they come out. Perhaps a few of the odds managers will be paying attention to London.
That’s what we’re hoping for, since the London line is wrong.
Man City would be a swell pick at (-300) to win the FA Cup over Watford without the match going to penalties. Remember that if the score is drawn after 90+ minutes, the sides will continue to play for a while. This is about the chances of an average Premier League team holding off an historically-great dynamo for 2 full hours at a thunderous neutral site.
And while Watford will have everything to play for, City could have literally everything to play for.
Or at least 4 very, very, very important things.