Watford 1, Manchester City 3
Bernardo Silva scored a brace and Raheem Sterling also scored as Manchester City beat Watford to claim top spot in the Premier League.Embed from Getty Images
Raheem Sterling continued his return to form with the opening goal while Silva became City’s top scorer for the season for the striker-less Blues as they effortlessly despatched Watford at Vicarage Road.
It was a mystery how City didn’t put the game out of reach for the Hornets after an irresistible first half – a ruthless striker like Sergio Aguero, whose name was sung by the travelling fans – would have filled his boots.
Silva eventually made sure of the win with a superb goal in the second half to notch up seven Premier League goals this term – as many as he scored in the whole of last season.
Cucho Hernandez came off the bench to pull a goal back for Watford but City managed to keep a feisty Watford down to speculative shots to earn a victory that meant that Watford had lost their last 14 games against City with an aggregate scoreline of 53 to 7 as City won their 7th game on the spin and notched a club record 31st League win in a calendar year – one more than in 2017 and 2019.
Match-winner Bernardo Silva was delighted with the first half effort from City.
He said: “Definitely a very good job in the first half, the team started very well.
“We should have scored more in the first half and tried to control the game when we scored three.”
But despite his own good form, he acknowledged the season was long and City had to keep the performance levels high.
Silva added: “We’re in good form at the moment – happily I have been scoring a lot, I’ll try and keep it that way.
“We’re not even half way through the Premier League – we have to keep working as it’ll be tough.”
Watford boss Claudio Ranieri was proud of his team but after a tough run he claimed that the battle to escape relegation would start now.
He said: “If someone told me we would get three points against Chelsea, Man Utd, and Man City I would be satisfied.
“I saw good spirit from the players, we never gave up and we scored a goal.
“I’m confident, we will make mistakes but we will try and improve.
“I’m satisfied but our Premier League [campaign to avoid relegation] starts now.”
Ranieri changed tactics at the break and Watford gave City something to think about – he explained: “I spoke with the players to be careful when we pressed higher because they move the ball around a lot.
“After half time I told the players to play counter attack and give more opportunities to the wingers but City have the key to open every defensive line.”
City boss Pep Guardiola reflected on a tough month at the end of a tough year in which City notched a club record 31 Premier League wins after victory at Watford.
He said: “It’s been a tough month, we missed a lot of chances – hopefully next time we will convert.”
He was also sure that this would not be the last twist in the title race after City went top following Chelsea’s defeat at West Ham today, adding: “We will drop points, hopefully our opponents will as well. We’re better after the calendar we have had.”
And Guardiola focussed on the challenge provided by a dangerous Watford side, adding: “The game should have been over quicker but the most difficult thing in football is to score a goal.
“We had to stop their counter attack, our game was really good and we found the players when we needed to and scored some beautiful goals.
Guardiola was delighted with another superb performance by Raheem Sterling but also praised Jack Grealish for his turn as the false nine after he came off in the second half.
Of his chat with Grealish, Guardiola revealed: “He said he enjoyed playing up front, but he’s still a little away from his best condition after 10, 15, 20 days off.
“Phil [Foden] has special ability to play in that position and Gabriel [Jesus] can do it too.”
Jesus was left limping after a bad foul by Craig Cathcart at the end of the game, leaving Guardiola furious.
He said: “It happened in the last five minutes, he is injured, hopefully it’s just a kick and he can play in Germany [against RB Leipzig].”
After the win at Aston Villa on Wednesday, City welcomed back an almost fully fit squad – only Ferran Torres remained unavailable – and Guardiola opted to make five changes.
Nathan Ake, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Fernandinho, Riyad Mahrez, and Gabriel Jesus were rested while Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte (back from suspension), Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden, and Jack Grealish started.
Raheem Sterling continues his fine form with another goal against Watford while Bernardo Silva also shines at Vicarage Road
City started at pace with chances raining in from the start as Aymeric Laporte’s header was cleared off the line by Joao Pedro.
Sterling headed City into the lead in the fourth minute with his 5th goal of the season after heading home Phil Foden’s cross – his 99th Premier League goal and his 11th in 9 appearances against the Hornets – after Jack Grealish had drawn Craig Cathcart away from him.
Sterling could have completed a hat trick within nine minutes having one shot tipped away by Daniel Bachmann before the Watford keeper was grateful to collect another header from the lively City winger.
Grealish was taking his turn as false nine and saw his shot deflected after a mazy run kept Bachmann on his toes and the England midfielder also blazed over while Joao Cancelo’s shot went wide as the chances kept racking up for City.
Watford did start causing problems for City after a poor start – Emmanuel Dennis had a near post shot stopped by Ederson and later had a deflected shot following a free kick collected by Ederson as he challenged the City defence down the right.
But City soon put a stop to that and scored their second after 31 minutes when Ilkay Gundogan’s shot was parried away by only for Bernardo Silva to collect the loose ball, go round Gundogan, and squeeze a shot home from from a narrow angle on the right for his 6th goal of the season.
It was the fifth goal in eight Premier League appearances for Silva – as many as he had scored in his previous 61 league games.
Foden, who went on to create 4 chances in the first half, turned and shot wide after some poor defending by William Troost-Ekong as the temptation was there to go for more goals – City ended the first half with over 81% possession, 13 shots on goal with 8 on target but only 2 goals to show for their dominance against a Watford side who had troubled many high flying Premier League sides lately.
Claudio Ranieri made a double change at the break – Juraj Kucka and Cucho Hernandez replaced Imran Louza and Tom Cleverley in Watford’s midfield to lend more steel.
Emmanuel Dennis continued to pose questions for City to answer but on the break Sterling was denied by another fine save from Bachmann.
But just as Watford started to get some confidence, City took the game away from them with Silva’s second goal of the game after 63 minutes.
Kyle Walker found him wide on the right – Danny Rose was absent again – and the midfielder cut inside before curling a fabulous left footed shot into the top corner beyond Bachmann who didn’t move.
Foden hit the post and Grealish had a deflected shot land on top of the crossbar as City looked to extend that lead further.
That was the cue for City to make changes and Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez replaced Gundogan and Grealish.
Laporte had a shot bravely blocked by Bachmann in an area where it would hurt as City continued to look for a fourth goal before Rose was released from his torment for Jeremy Ngakia.
Hernandez pulled a goal back after firing in the rebound after his initial shot came off the back post as the Watford counter attack finally came off with City losing concentration.
The Colombian almost set up a great goal for Josh King with a cross from the right but the striker shot narrowly wide.
Sterling fired over and had another shot deflected behind for a corner but City had to be wary of Watford’s pace on the break and Jesus was left limping after an agricultural challenge from Cathcart late on but they still managed to rack up 26 shots on goal, with 13 on target from 77% possession.
MATCH STATS – Watford 1, Manchester City 3
Watford: Bachmann, Femenia, Troost-Ekong, Cathcart, Rose (Ngakia 71), Louza (Hernandez 46), Dennis, Cleverley (Kucka 46), Sissoko, Pedro, King
Watford subs not used: Elliot, Gosling, Fletcher, Tufan, Kabasele, Morris
Booked: King 7 (foul on Almeric Laporte); Rose 32 (foul on Jack Grealish in build up to goal); Cathcart 85 (foul on Gabriel Jesus)
Goal: Hernandez 74
Man City: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo, Gundogan (De Bruyne 68), Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Sterling, Grealish (Mahrez 68), Foden (Jesus 75)
Man City subs: Steffen, Carson, Stones, Ake, Zinchenko, Fernandinho
Goals: Sterling 4; Bernardo Silva 31, 63
Referee: Simon Hooper