Written by Damian Kayat for Hollywoodbets.
Crystal Palace vs Watford | Sunday 24 April | Wembley Stadium | 17:00
Isn’t it heartening to see a F.A Cup semi-final contested between two supporting actors of the footballing world? With the growing emphasis on European progression and the subsequent squad rotations, top sides have certainly left the door open to industrious lower ranked sides with fairy-tale ideation. Alan Pardew’s rollercoaster ride at Palace has mirrored a managerial career that lurks flirtatiously in the zone between the sublime and the ridiculous.
His Palace side have however recently found a semblance of form and may just have the momentum going into this encounter. Watford seemed to go into hibernation mode once they had all but secured their Premier League status. The Cup semi-final will define what has already been a successful season for a side earmarked for relegation at the start of the season.
To Win Match
Crystal Palace 14/10 | Draw 21/10 | Watford 19/10
Palace will be buoyed by the return to fitness of midfielder James McArthur. The pugnacious ball-winning midfielder could prove critical in disrupting the combination of Deeney and Ighalo. He perfectly complements the creative Cabaye and allows Ward and Souare to advance down the flanks with some reassurance. Palace and Watford both prefer to play on the break and this should make for an intriguingly cagey in the middle of the park. Palace probably have the edge in pure quality and this may see them having to reluctantly control the tempo of the game. It’s really a fascinating microcosm of the current trend toward counterattack and away from the tika taka approach.
Palace’s struggles in the striker department have been as well documented. Connor Wickham- with his ability to hold the ball up and bring the likes of Bolasie and Zaha into the game- will likely start up front. Bolasie has been a catalyst for their upturn in form. The energetic runner has proved instrumental upon his return from injury and could prove a talismanic figure for the Eagles. Cabaye’s ability to split a defence with his range of passing may also prove vital in overcoming a side that is nothing if not motivated.
Sanchez-Flores will be without the service of Amrabat following a silly sending off at West Ham midweek. This is unlikely to seriously disrupt what has become a well-oiled cup entity. Watford- taking a que from European behemoths Barcelona- will likely persist with Pantillimon as their Cup keeper. One can’t help but feel for Gomes. The keeper has probably been their player of the season and has improved immeasurably from the days when he was an object of derision in North London. Watford are going to have to be compact and will need to prevent Puncheon and Bolasie from exposing their flanks.
Watson will be Watford’s closest approximation to Cabaye. He is calm in possession and will control the tempo of Watford’s play. As always, the partnership of Deeney and Ighalo will be hugely important to Watford’s chances. Their workmanlike side is not exactly bursting with game-changers and the duo need to rediscover the type of form that momentarily had Deeney’s name in the England reckoning. Watford will aim to keep the game has disjointed and tight as possible. You feel that the longer the game goes on at nil-nil, the more it favours the Hornets.
Verdict: Crystal Palace to win (90 min) at 14/10
Palace have more game-breakers than the phlegmatic Hornets. They have scored in ten o their last twelve games; Watford have only scored five goals in their last eight competitive matches.