Watford and Wolverhampton Wanderers meet for the eighth time in the FA Cup today, though each of those previous clashes pale into insignificance compared this afternoon’s clash at Wembley Stadium.
The unlikely pair face off for a place in the showpiece final against Manchester City, who stayed on course for the quadruple as they reached the FA Cup final after edging out Brighton also at Wembley Saturday.
Pep Guardiola’s side were nowhere near their best but a largely undistinguished contest was settled by Gabriel Jesus’ stooping header after only four minutes, converted from Kevin de Bruyne’s perfect right-wing cross.
Watford’s run to the semis has not been as daunting as Wolves’, having had to battle past non-league Woking, Championship side Queens Park Rangers, and bottom-half Premier League teams Newcastle United and
Wolves have enjoyed the more impressive campaign by virtue of this being their first season back in the big time, but it has also been a hugely encouraging eight months for Watford under impressive boss Javi Gracia.
Gracia is the ninth Watford boss to be appointed during the ownership of the Pozzo family since 2012, becoming the first to sign a contract extension with the club in that time when putting pen to paper on a long-term deal in November.
As well as competing for a place in the FA Cup final for just a second time, having finished runners-up to Everton in 1983-84, Watford are already assured of their highest-ever points tally in the Premier League era.
Their midweek win over Fulham, thrashing their opponents 4-1 after a half-time shuffle, leaves them eighth in the Premier League behind Wolves.
There is very little between the two teams in the Premier League, separated by just one place, one point and one goal.
The problem for Watford, though, is that they have won just one of their six games in all competitions at Wembley Stadium (2-0 vs. Bolton Wanderers in May 1999), losing each of their last four at the ground.
In contrast, Wolves have won their last six games at Wembley – only Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur (both with seven) have won more consecutively at the ground.
That includes victory in their Premier League meeting with Tottenham in December, producing another impressive display to beat Mauricio Pochettino’s side 3-1.
Wolves have earned a reputation for giving the top six a bloodied nose this term, with Tuesday’s 2-1 comeback win against Manchester United – a little over two weeks on from beating the Red Devils in the FA Cup quarters – making it 13 points collected from a possible 30 in such fixtures.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s men have taken more points from the established elite than any team outside the top group, in fact, though on the flip side they have all too often fallen short against the so-called lesser sides.
More relevant to today’s meeting, Wolves suffered a 2-0 loss to Watford at Molineux a little over five months ago in their only previous league meeting to date this term.
The reverse fixture scheduled for April 27 – could be a playoff fixture of sorts to see which of these sides, if any, plays European football next season.
All attention for now is on the FA Cup, though, and Wolves certainly boast more pedigree in the competition than Watford. The Midlanders are playing in their 15th semi-final – albeit a first since 1998 – and they lifted the trophy in 1960.
That is in comparison to Watford’s seven previous FA Cup semis, only one of which they have won to give them the joint-lowest progression rate alongside Fulham.
Neither of these sides would have expected to be in with a shot of cup glory this term. In a battle on two fronts, today’s match will have the feel of a final in many ways to supporters of both clubs.
Designated home side Watford are sweating on the fitness of Roberto Pereyra and Isaac Success for this weekend’s showdown, suffering from hip and knee injuries respectively.
Pereyra has been key to the Hornets’ success this term, starting 29 of their 32 Premier League matches, and Gracia will be desperate to get the Argentinian attacker back to full fitness.
Wolves have no fresh injury concerns for today’s match, meanwhile, maintaining their reputation as the fittest side in the division.
Ruben Vinagre was handed a start against Man United in midweek as Nuno rotated his side slightly, but he is almost certain to be replaced by Jonny, on the opposite flank to Matt Doherty.
This will be the eighth FA Cup match between Watford and Wolves, with Watford winning just one of the seven previous encounters – a 3-0 victory in the fifth round in February 1980.
Wolves’ second biggest FA Cup victory came against Watford back in January 1912, thrashing the then non-league outfit 10-0 in a first-round replay.
Watford have only lost one of their last five matches against Wolves in all competitions (W2 D2), a 0-1 defeat at Vicarage Road in December 2014 in the Championship.