Man City practically walked its way to an FA Cup victory as it destroyed Watford 6-0 at Wembley on Saturday. The win also meant it was the first ever domestic treble for a men's team in England. It was an incredible achievement, which also felt grimly quotidian.
History was made, then, but it was history that felt grimly quotidian. Manchester City wrapped up the first men's domestic treble in England by beating Watford in the FA Cup final on Saturday, an achievement of a magnitude that far outstripped a slightly muted occasion. But this is the curse of the modern game: City has been brilliant this season, dominant in unprecedented ways, and yet still its directors and coaching staff, if not its fans, look with yearning to Madrid in two weeks' time and the Champions League final. Nor was this even much of a finale. City is much richer, much better, that Watford and the only slight surprise was that it took Pep Guardiola’s side 26 minutes to take the lead.
Watford, perhaps, will think of the first quarter of the game and what might have been. It did have a chance – and a golden one at that, with Gerard Deulofeu leading a break down the right and squaring for Roberto Pereyra whose first touch was poor, allowing Ederson to spread himself and block the subsequent shot.
There was also a loud shout for a penalty midway through the first half as Pereyra’s goalbound shot struck Vincent Kompany on the point of the elbow. VAR was available to the referee Kevin Friend but he decided against giving a penalty – a decision that, such is the nonsense the authorities have got themselves in with the handball law, was probably correct in the FA Cup; in the Champions League, though, it might have been given.
But even in that period, City had 70 percent of the ball. This was not a contest as football used to know them and the result of domination like that is that the game had the feel less of a final than a third-round tie, the plucky minnows (who had finished 11th in the Premier League, although 48 points behind City) clinging on against the giants. City, it seemed, didn’t even bother with a full-strength team, with Gabriel Jesus preferred to Sergio Aguero – you assume he wasn’t being rested for the summer tour of China, although these days it’s hard to be sure.
City’s fans, similarly, didn’t seem especially enthused. Inside London's underground on the way to the game the chant “We’re famous Man City and we’re going to Wembley,” went up, to which a dour voice added, “For the fifth time this season.” The jaunt to the national stadium with all its traditions is familiar enough to City now to have been soured.
The opener came from a familiar source: Bernardo Silva dispossessing Abdoulaye Doucoure in midfield and feeding it forward to Gabriel Jesus. His initial shot was blocked but the ball was worked out to David Silva, who scored with a calm angled finish. Doucoure has had an excellent season and has been linked with a move to a top-six side but he was poor here, his distraction exemplified by his booking for protesting about the non-award of the penalty when Kompany blocked Pereyra’s shot.
Bernardo, meanwhile, has vied with Raheem Sterling to be City’s player of the season. His effort and work-rate are part of what’s remarkable about Guardiola. It’s impossible, perhaps even distasteful, not to mention the source of City’s money and the FFP investigations the club is facing, but from a purely footballing point of view, the way that money has been spent is remarkable. Guardiola buys good players and makes them better.
Bernardo was the source of the second as well, his pass finding Jesus as Heurelho Gomes came flapping form his goal. The Brazilian’s shot was deemed already to have crossed the line when Sterling hammered it gleefully into the net.
Kevin De Bruyne, having come off the bench added a third following another move that began with Watford meekly surrendering possession to City in midfield. The Belgian laid in Jesus for the fourth, Sterling got the fifth and sixth to equal the record margin of victory in a Cup final, level with Bury's demolition of Derby County in 1903.
But by then this had become less a match than an exercise in accountancy. Add up the goals, admire City’s verve and style, salute their achievement, but also wonder how on earth English football has put itself in such a state that the game that used to be its showpiece could be reduced to this bloody procession.