Gracia: “It’s Something Different, Something Special”
Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.
By Kevin Affleck
Javi Gracia wasn’t giving much away in his press conference yesterday. He was in parsimonious mood.
He wouldn’t give an inkling into who he might choose in goal, you had no chance of sucking him into stoking up this new-found rivalry with Crystal Palace and forget any talk of him potentially leading his side out in a semi-final at Wembley, let alone the final.
He was the calmest man amid a hive of activity and hype at the club’s training base in London Colney. But don’t for a second mistake that for a lack of passion. As Gerard Deulofeu said in an interview with The Times this week, Gracia “is a quiet guy, but when he has to be intense and aggressive, he is. And that’s good because you know what you have to do with him.”
Gracia stayed very much on script, very cool, calm and collected as he knows his side need to be dead-eyed on Saturday lunchtime, but he dropped his guard ever so slightly near the end of the press conference when you got a glimmer of just how much this one means to him.
“It’s something different, something special,” he said. “We are so close to play in a semi-final. We feel it and know it’s important.”
“I’m looking forward to the game,” he said. “All the players are as well. It is a very good chance for us, but also Palace as well. We have to play well and when the game is finished, we’ll see if we are able to achieve the semi-final at Wembley or not. It’s a final and the last chance to carry on in this competition. We are going to play like we usually do.”
The approach has served the Hornets pretty well so far this season, leading them to the league double over the Eagles.
“Playing against Palace is always very demanding,” said Gracia. “We got very good results, but we needed to work very, very hard in all the games. The next one will be the same. They have a very good squad and a very good coach. It is a pleasure to see Roy Hodgson and his staff. It’s true we beat them twice, but all the games have been very, very close and in all of them, we won, but it could have been another result. We have to be ready knowing it will be a very close game again.”
Gracia never makes a special plan for one opposing player, never details someone to do a man-marking job. He won’t veer away from that philosophy when it comes to dealing with Wilfried Zaha. “I am not thinking about one player because collectively we need to be ready to compete. I am not only thinking about Zaha.”
Every one of the six cup games Gracia has taken charge of at this club have been away from home, so he’s looking forward to the comforts of Vicarage Road on Saturday and feeling the support of a sold-out crowd.
“Palace have new players and are stronger than before but playing at home is our advantage,” he said. “We’ve never played before at home [in the cup under me] and it is something I want to enjoy, playing with the support of our fans.”
The Head Coach made seven changes at Manchester City in a move that looked like he was prioritising the FA Cup, but Gracia said it was a horses-for-courses team, picked with a specific strategy in mind. The way they performed so well in the first half suggest he got it spot on.
“We try to win all the games,” he said. “The most important one is always the next one and we always try to choose the best players. In the last game we thought we needed those with legs to run a lot, to defend a lot, to play with our plan. The next game will be another plan, another team, another game and we’ll be ready to compete at our best level and choosing the best players. I always have to find the balance with the players I have. I try to find the best balance to get a good result, to play well. It’s important for me. I must now try to find the right option to compete against Palace.”