Manchester City extended their lead at the summit of the Premier League to five points with a 2-1 win over Watford.
The Citizens were in control for the majority of the game until their hosts entered another gear in the closing stages and nearly earned themselves a point.
The Hornets started the game fairly well, working to their full capacity to thwart the visitors’ sumptuous attacking play. However, it didn’t take long for Ben Foster’s ability to be tested to the full, as the veteran shot-stopper pulled off a remarkable triple save denying both Riyad Mahrez and David Silva just with 20 minutes on the clock.
Mid-way through the first half, Watford fashioned a chance of their own as Abdoulaye Doucouré looped the ball over his own head to pick out captain Troy Deeney in the area, the 30-year old denied by the outstretched leg of Ederson.
However City remained in command throughout, and inevitably opened the scoring with half-time approaching as a sublime cross from Mahrez picked out Leroy Sané who chested the ball past Foster, sending the visitors into the break a goal to the good.
The champions’ performance was not disrupted by the interval. Just six minutes after the restart, high pressure from City caused a stray pass from the home side to be picked up by Gabriel Jesus, who reached the byline before teeing up Mahrez. The Algerian caressed the ball home to round off a superb individual performance.
Just when the game seemed to be teetering to a close with City in a state of absolute dominance, Watford had new life breathed into them. Rejuvenated and uplifted, the Hornets halved the deficit with five minutes still to play as Doucouré bundled the ball home after pinball in the visitors’ box. Deeney had the perfect chance to complete the comeback in stoppage time, but his header from a corner barely troubled Ederson.
Takeaways from the match
City show their grit
Renowned for their intricate passing and dynamic attacking football, Pep Guardiola’s City were presented with a different challenge against Watford — one that consisted of more than just putting the ball in the net.
Having been in full control for around 75 minutes, the visitors looked startled by the Hornets’ revival in the latter stages, and eventually had to dig deep to earn their result in Hertfordshire. Central defenders John Stones, Vincent Kompany and his substitute replacement Nicolas Otamendi endured considerable pressure from Watford’s forwards but did well to resist the onslaught.
They say that champions-elect will emerge victorious from games such as these, and if City do go on to lift the title for a second consecutive year they will certainly view this encounter as evidence for the determination and perseverance required of league winners.
Mahrez shows a sparkling touch
The talent at Guardiola’s disposal makes the skin of opposition players and fans crawl. Even without star talents such as Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne, City performed at a higher level than many teams in the league would consider conceivable, let alone possible — and one of the key players on the night was former Leicester City winger Mahrez.
Earning both a goal and an assist, the Algerian terrorised Watford’s back line for the duration of the match and could easily have notched up more goal contributions were it not for the heroics of Foster in goal for the Hornets.
Watford valiant, though powerless to resist
Considering the circumstances, Watford may consider a 2-1 loss to the champions to be a respectable result. Coming off the back of an underwhelming display against Leicester at the weekend, there was a widespread fear that the floodgates would burst open for this one.
Predictably, City were simply untouchable at times. There were periods in either half where the visitors kept the ball for a minimum of two minutes and the Hornets could scarcely retain possession for five seconds. However, Watford showed their spirit throughout, refusing to bow down to the undisputed quality of their opponents.
The Citizens did not deserve to gain anything less than victory from this game, yet, had the home side equalised in the dying moments, there would be a strong case to argue their performance warranted a point.
Watford travel to Merseyside on Monday night to lock horns with former manager Marco Silva and Everton.
Meanwhile, City visit Chelsea in the Saturday evening kickoff in a crucial tie in the race for the Premier League title.