Gracia: “These Three Points Are Very Important”
Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.
By Kevin Affleck
Javi Gracia is a real student of the game.
He will have noted with real interest how Manchester United have only won 13 of 54 matches against sides from his native Spain, losing 19 times. There must be something in the way the sides from La Liga – and it's not just Real Madrid and Barcelona, it's Sevilla, Valencia, Celta Vigo, Athletic Bilbao and Deportivo La Coruña, too – retain possession, play with such discipline and invention that outfoxes the Red Devils.
The Head Coach now faces the task of getting his cosmopolitan side to play with those same virtues at Old Trafford and give United another Spanish inquisition of sorts.
"I remember important games at Old Trafford," Gracia said. "I remember when Redondo did that amazing piece of skill [for Real Madrid against Henning Berg], but I always remember how good that United team was. It was a pleasure to see them play against Spanish teams. It was a strong team. Now it's a good chance for us to compete against this team because I know this experience will help us to improve and grow. It's good for us to play against a team like United."
Watford turned up at Old Trafford on the final day of last season with precious little to play for, except perhaps a few extra quid in prize money. They huffed and puffed, playing some attractive stuff at times, but they never really looked like spoiling Michael Carrick's farewell game. It's a different kettle of fish now. A point, let alone three, would be very handy in the race to be the best of the rest, while there are also semi-final spots at stake.
"It will be different," said Gracia. "In that moment, both teams were in a similar situation [with nothing to really play for]. We played with some different players, in different positions but I think now we are in a different moment with a lot of points in play. We want to win the points. In the last game [at Old Trafford] maybe the players were thinking other things, about finishing the season. Now we have a lot of things to do and these three points are very important for us and we try to show it during the game."
The game at Old Trafford on Saturday now carries extra significance as it will be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first since he became the permanent manager of United. The Theatre of Dreams will be in celebratory mood and the expectation will be for United to mark the occasion with a swashbuckling victory.
"First of all, congratulations to Solskjaer," said Gracia. "When the club extends the contract and the manager decides to stay, I am happy for them. In this moment, United are one of the teams in better form. I think they are playing very well. To play against United is always difficult, always very demanding. They have a very good squad and they can achieve whatever they want."
Watford have only lost by the odd goal in their last two matches with United, 1-0 at Old Trafford and then 2-1 at Vicarage Road. Gracia accepts the Red Devils are now a different animal under Solskjaer to the one they were under the pragmatic Jose Mourinho.
"It will be different because they don't have the same players, it's a different coach," said Gracia. "They changed something, they are playing well, with confidence and are in a better moment. I think we always competed really well, losing games but very close games. I am sure we'll have our options if we play as we know."
Watford have not done too bad with Gracia at the wheel. The team should easily achieve their best ever Premier League finish and a second ever appearance in an FA Cup final is a distinct possibility. Don't expect the Spaniard to start chicken counting, though.
"We have to play eight games in the Premier League and I hope two in the FA Cup," he said. "Ten games and in these ten games, we have to show what we are able to do in the most important part of the season. I'm always focused on the next game. We've done this all season and it is the best way. We will continue in the same way. We have to take the right decisions and all the games are important, but now the most important game is United."
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