Story of the match
After a hearty and determined display against top of the table, Chelsea in midweek, Claudio Ranieri found himself without a wealth of talent as Ismaila Sarr and Adam Masina were consigned to an every-growing list of absentees for the Hornets.
However, Ranieri could be thankful to call upon the in-form attacking duo of Emmanuel Dennis and Joshua King, with the former winning player and goal of the month for November for his two goals against Manchester United and Leicester City.
In contrast to Watford’s injury woes, Guardiola was heartened to see Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones and Kyle Walker return to training this week and all but De Bruyne return to the starting line-up this evening.
With Chelsea losing in the early kick-off today, Manchester City knew that victory would lift them top of the league and the visitors came out flying in the early stages.
In only the second minute, Joao Pedro was required to clear Aymeric Laporte’s header off the line.
The Citizens continued to pile on the pressure as Daniel Bachmann was called upon frequently in the opening 15 minutes with Jack Grealish twice going close and Sterling drawing a spectacular diving save from the Watford goalkeeper with a curling effort from the edge of the box.
Watford eventually found their feet in the 17th minute as Dennis twist and turned his way into the Manchester City box to fire a low effort at the near post but Ederson got down quickly to smother the chance.
It proved to be rare respite for the Hornets as Grealish and Sterling continued to torment the Watford defence, with the former missing a couple of golden opportunities to extend the lead.
Watford briefly threatened the City goal once more in the 29th minute as Dennis’ deflected free-kick forced Ederson into a low save but with the Hornets overcommitting and trying to find a way back into the game, the visitors countered.
Bernardo Silva led the charge and slipped Gundogan in on goal but his effort was saved by Bachmann. Silva was, however, on hand to pick up the rebound and made no mistake from a tight angle, beating the Watford goalkeeper at his near-post to extend the lead.
City had further chances to make it three through Grealish and Gundogan but Watford held on to keep the deficit to two at half-time.
The Citizens picked up where they left off in the second half.
In the 59th minute, Foden struck the post and Laporte fired over from twelve yards moments later.
Three minutes later and just as Watford were enjoying a brief spell of possession, City countered through Sterling who teed up Gundogan, but the City midfielder couldn’t keep his effort down as it sailed over the bar.
A minute later and the visitors did, finally, have their third.
Bernardo Silva, continually threatening the Watford defence, picked up the ball on the right edge of the box, took a coupe of touches to waltz past Rose and curled the ball into the top corner.
With the result seemingly out of reach, Watford began to play some good football after that and show their attacking capabilities.
The substitutions of Juraj Kucka and Cucho Hernandez brought the Hornets to life and in the 74th minute Watford had a goal to reward their endeavour.
Hernandez found space beyond the City defence and fired across Ederson only to see his effort bounce back off the post. The Columbian was, however, alert to the rebound and tapped in with the City goalkeeper scrambling across his line.
Four minutes later and Watford went close to a second as Hernandez found King in the box with a low cross. The Watford striker hit the ball first time but couldn’t find the target as it fell inches wide of the near post.
The Hornets created further chances late on through substitute Jeremy Ngakia and Hernandez but it was too little too late as Manchester City held on for a comfortable victory to leapfrog Chelsea and Liverpool to top of the Premier League.
Takeaways from the match
A work in progress
Since Ranieri’s arrival in early October, Watford have enjoyed a rollercoaster of results, from the initial lows of a 5-0 defeat to Liverpool to the highs of victory against Everton and Manchester United. Yet, the performances have progressively improved.
Under the experienced Italian, Watford have learned to play in at least four different systems, and key to this transformation from a chaotic, disorganised side into a disciplined attacking force has been the midfield unit of Sissoko, Cleverley and Louza.
Any new style or system takes time to embed however, and today proved a case in point as Cleverley and Louza were hauled off at half-time, thoroughly out-run and out-played by a superior opposition.
Recent performances are certainly enough to give Watford fans and hierarchy hope, but today showed that there is still a lot of work to do for this side to perform at the highest level consistently.
Setting the tone
Matches like this are unlikely to define a season, however they can set the tone ahead of a busy Christmas schedule. Watford will be hoping it won’t.
Needless to say, it will be a pivotal month for Watford and set them up for a relegation battle or mid-table mediocrity. However, it will not be without its challenges.
With long-term injuries to forward Ismaila Sarr and defensive stalwarts Adam Masina, Ben Foster and Nicolas Nkoulou, Ranieri’s options are already limited but with the African Cup of Nations on the horizon, Watford will know that their Premier League fixtures won’t get any easier.
One player stood head and shoulders above the rest and whilst Grealish could have scored four or five, Silva proved the difference with two wonderfully taken goals and a masterclass in midfield.
With six goals in his previous eight games - as many as in his previous 61 games for City, Silva is in a rare patch of goalscoring form, but has class in doubtless and often dictated the tempo and line of attack for Guardiola’s side.
His second goal was indicative of Silva’s ability.
Standing up a helpless Rose, Silva ghosted past the defender and into the box, needing only a couple of touches to find space and unleash a sumptuous curling effort into the top left corner of Bachmann’s net.
The Watford goalkeeper could only watch and admire. Like much of Manchester City’s performance, it was unstoppable.