This time last season, Ben Foster was staring relegation in the face with West Bromwich Albion.
The Englishman had performed admirably in goal for the Baggies but he alone wasn’t enough to prevent the drop. But Watford saw enough to bring Foster back to Vicarage Road after a two-year loan spell between 2005 and 2007.
Fast forward to May 2019, and Foster and Watford are preparing for just the second FA Cup final in the club’s history against Premier League champions Manchester City.
The Hornets have beat the likes of Crystal Palace, Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers en route to the final, with the latter coming courtesy of a dramatic comeback in the semi-finals.
Foster, 36, has not featured in at any point in that run, with Javi Gracia opting for second-choice Heurelho Gomes who appears to be in his final season in football.
Given the task at hand on Saturday, there is some uncertainty over whether Gracia will continue with Gomes or if Foster will get his first FA Cup game of the season on the biggest stage. For his part, however, Foster has made his feelings on the situation clear.
— Watford Football Club (@WatfordFC) April 7, 2019
Despite the success Manchester City have had this season in the Premier League, retaining their title with 98 points, Foster is confident his Watford side have certain players with the “magic” to have a say in Saturday’s FA Cup final.
“On Saturday, the main thing for us to focus on is how we are going to play,” Foster told Squawka.
“We know what to expect from Man City and if one of their world class players produces a bit of magic then sometimes it’s very hard to stop but we know we have players that can also produce a bit of magic and can score fantastic goals too.”
City’s Premier League-winning tally of 98 points was the second-highest in the division’s history, bettered only by the Citizens’ 100 points recorded last year.
Pep Guardiola’s side have also won the Carabao Cup this season and will be looking to become the first men’s team to win the domestic treble in England with the FA Cup.
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City faltered once more in the Champions League, having been dramatically knocked out in the quarter-finals by fellow Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur on away goals after a 4-4 draw.
But despite this failure, questions have been asked over City’s place as one of, if not the, best team ever to play in England.
With Guardiola at the wheel, City boast the likes of Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva among their immensely talented squad and are already been tipped to retain the league next season.
But Foster believes there is at least one team who were better in his lifetime.
Asked whether Guardiola’s Man City team was the best he’s ever seen, Foster said: “When I was part of the Man United side that beat Chelsea in the Champions League final, that’s probably the best team I’ve been involved with.
“This Man City team are obviously full of quality but that Man Utd team with the likes of [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Wayne] Rooney, [Paul] Scholes and [Ryan] Giggs were unbelievable.”
Led by Sir Alex Ferguson, United won three consecutive Premier League titles between 2007 and 2009 as well as the Champions League, something Guardiola will be looking to imitate at Man City.
Whether or not Watford do win the FA Cup for the first time in the club’s history, this season has been a successful one for the Hornets just by reaching the final.
With Gracia’s 4-2-2-2 formation, Watford have proven to be a tough team to break down, and improved on their league standing to finish 11th this season with a club record of 50 points in the Premier League.
And Foster will not be accepting any regression from the Hornets this season, eyeing up a potential spot in the top six next year.
He continued: “Next season’s objective for Watford is to improve on this season, whether that means we achieve breaking into the top six then great, but this season has been a record-breaking effort but it’s important to not let standards slip and continue to build.”
It will be a tough ask for Watford with Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Man United occupying those spaces this season. But the likes of United have shown some signs of weakness and face an uncertain future, potentially opening the door for an outsider to swoop in.
Foster understands his side will have competition if they do wish to disrupt the so-called ‘Big Six’, particularly from Leicester City and Newcastle United.
“I think the best team outside of the top six is Leicester,” he added. They have a lot of young exciting talent.
“Though the most difficult team to play against outside of the top six is probably Newcastle, they’re so organised and very hard to break down.”
By Saturday evening, Watford will know whether they will be mounting next season’s challenge to the league’s elite as FA Cup holders.