Two FA cup matches scheduled to play this weekend as clubs chase silverware ahead of season close

By AFP: Saturday, April 6th 2019 at 09:22 GMT +3 | Football
Nuno Espirito Santo [Courtesy]

Wolves and Watford meet in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday, seeking silverware to add lustre to a season in which they are both battling to be the "best of the rest" in the Premier League.

Nuno Espirito Santo's Wolves nestle just below the top six after a second straight win against Manchester United this week, with Watford a point and a place below them in eighth spot.

The clubs clash at Wembley for the right to play either quadruple-chasing Manchester City or Brighton in next month's showpiece final.

Ambitious Wolves, bankrolled by the Chinese Fosun International group, were promoted last year after six seasons out of the top flight but they have made a splash since their return, taking 13 points off the big six.

Their rise has not been without controversy -- a number of clubs last year urged the English Football League (EFL) to investigate the influence at Molineux of Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes, who looks after Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Mendes's Gestifute agency, whose clients also include the Wolves boss and players Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota and Ivan Cavaleiro, has flooded the club with talent out of reach of competitors.

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But the EFL ruled that the club's relationship with Mendes, who has no official title at the club, had not breached regulations regarding intermediaries.

And only four other Premier League clubs spent less on agents fees than the Midlands club in the past two transfer windows.

Wolves this week made another powerful statement of intent, breaking their club transfer record to sign top-scorer Raul Jimenez, who had been on loan from Benfica, for a reported £30 million ($39 million).

Wolves this week made another powerful statement of intent, breaking their club transfer record to sign top-scorer Raul Jimenez [Courtesy]

Wing-back Matt Doherty said the rise of the club has been dizzying.

"It's been unbelievable," said the Irishman, who was with the club when they were relegated to the third tier of English football in 2013.

"You've got to remember it's been a short space of time where this has all happened. It's not that long ago that we were in League One.

"Who would've thought we'd be in the semi-final of the FA Cup and seventh in the league -- it's kind of a fairytale, so we're all very happy with the situation at the moment."

- Wolves history -

Wolves are steeped in the history of their famous title-winning sides of the 1950s and are four-time winners of the FA Cup, even if their last success was in 1960.

"Everybody knows what it could mean, but we have to play it just like another game, then make it special to make something happen, play the game," said Nuno.

Watford, who were losing finalists in 1984, cannot boast the same historical pedigree but are punching above their weight in a cut-throat league.

Pep defends Mendy

Pep Guardiola celebrates at a past match [Courtesy]

Pep Guardiola has indicated France defender Benjamin Mendy has a long-term future at Manchester City despite concerns over his off-field behaviour.

The left-back, who has played just 27 minutes of football since November while struggling to recover from a knee injury, was filmed in a Manchester nightclub at 3:30 am last Saturday.

Guardiola has in the past made clear his frustrations with Mendy, who has been beset by injury problems since joining City from Monaco for £52 million ($68 million) in 2017.

The manager had strong words with the Frenchman in September after he was nearly three hours late for a treatment session, having attended an Anthony Joshua boxing bout in London the previous evening.

In February, Mendy caused his manager more irritation by claiming in an Instagram post that he was in Hong Kong, without his manager’s permission, although the defender later clarified the post by saying he was joking.

Guardiola has suggested previously that he is considering signing another left-back before the start of next season, having been short of options in that area because of Mendy's injury.

But if the defender can stay fit and play consistently well then Guardiola is likely to give him opportunities.

- Left-back shortage -

Injury prone Mendy [Courtesy]

"What we want to do is work with him to protect his knee, his condition, to help us, because we need him," Guardiola said.

"We have played two seasons without a left-back. That is a reality, so in the first season, Fabian Delph helped us incredibly and Danilo as well, he was incredible in that position, and this season Oleks (Zinchenko).

"And we need him. Hopefully this part of the season and in the future, next season, he can be fit."

Guardiola said that he wanted to work with Mendy to get the best out of the player.

"He's a nice guy, he has an incredible heart," he said. "He is a funny guy. Sometimes I have to understand his culture, where he has come from.

"It's not the first time that one guy goes to dinner outside because he doesn't have a game, and goes with his brother and his friend, to eat something, to drink something. It's not the first time and it will not be the last one, so it is what it is."

The City boss appeared relatively unconcerned that Mendy had been filmed dancing at a nightclub in the early hours.

"Dancing? I don't know if he danced," Guardiola said. "Really, I don't know. I was not there. But from what I saw sometimes with his celebrations in the Premier League, he's not a bad dancer. Really not."

Guardiola, whose side take on Brighton in the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley on Saturday, said success would ultimately be down to the players and that he was enjoying the moment.

"We cannot achieve important titles without important players saying 'guys I'm here'," he said. "I don’t play. It is a moment for them, definitely."

"I feel the pressure in November or December when we are saying 'wow, there are five or six months left and we are out of one competition or not in the next round of the Champions League'," he added.

"Now it is a joy, an incredible moment. We're trying to get to an FA Cup final and then keep running."

 

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