Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said his side had “reached their highest standard” of the season as they claimed a dominant win over Watford to move top of the Premier League for the first time in 2021-22.
Raheem Sterling headed the reigning champions ahead after only four minutes, when free at the back post to meet Phil Foden’s excellent cross from the left.
The hosts were repeatedly ripped apart by City’s movement, passing and creativity and only a number of saves from goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann kept the score down to one goal in the first 30 minutes.
But City got a well-deserved second as Bachmann denied Ilkay Gundogan, but the rebound fell to Bernardo Silva, who showed excellent skill to beat two defenders and finish well from a tight angle.
Silva then grabbed his second and City’s third, cutting in from the right side of the penalty area and curling a fine finish past Bachmann.
Cucho Hernandez pulled one back for Watford, following in to convert a rebound after his first strike had hit the foot of the post.
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“We’re an incredibly consistent team,” said Guardiola, whose side have recorded seven consecutive wins in all competitions. “We played a really good performance and missed a lot of chances.
“The game could have been over after 10 or 15 minutes and the most important thing is we played in a consistent way that made us control the game.
“We scored three beautiful goals and could’ve scored more.”
After 15 matches, City – title winners in five of the past 10 seasons – are a point ahead of Liverpool.
Chelsea began the day as leaders, but are now a point behind the Reds in third place, after losing 3-2 to fourth-placed West Ham.
“It’s better to be at the top, but we will drop points and hopefully the opponents will as well but there is a long path ahead,” added Guardiola.
Six points from eight games under Ranieri
For Watford, this was a sixth defeat in eight matches under Claudio Ranieri, albeit from an incredibly tough run, including encounters against five of the current top seven.
They performed excellently to win 5-2 at Everton and 4-1 against Manchester United in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s last match in charge of the Red Devils, but have only picked up six points since Ranieri replaced the sacked Xisco Munoz in October.
Ranieri received a hero’s reception last Sunday when he took his new side to Leicester, the club he led to the Premier League title in 2015-16.
But, just as in that match where they lost 4-2, the Hornets’ defensive problems were on display and only fine goalkeeping from Bachmann denied City a hatful of first-half goals.
Goalscorer Sterling also had another effort saved, Jack Grealish – back in the starting line-up for the first time in a month after injury – was denied three times and Joao Cancelo fired wide as Watford were outclassed.
After Silva doubled the visitors’ lead in the 31st minute, it became a question of how many City would score.
Sterling is now on 99 Premier League goals and had a chance to reach his century, but had an effort palmed away by Bachmann, who also fingertipped a Foden drive on to the post.
The chances kept coming for City with Gundogan shooting over, before Silva’s second goal – and seventh of the season – came in the 63rd minute.
Grealish also had a strike deflected on to the crossbar, and Bachmann saved from Aymeric Laporte, before substitute Hernandez claimed Watford’s consolation in the 74th minute.
“At 3-0 down we never gave up,” said Ranieri. “We conceded a lot of counter-attacks but I saw a lot of spirit, togetherness and commitment. I’m satisfied.
“What’s important now is the experience against the big teams. Now we start playing teams like us who are fighting against relegation. Our Premier League starts now.”
The only downside for Guardiola was a potential ankle injury for striker Gabriel Jesus, who was cynically hacked down by Craig Cathcart, with the defender only receiving a yellow card, not a red.
“Sometimes when the defender hacked an opponent, it’s a red card,” said Guardiola. “In the last five minutes, he couldn’t play, he was injured.
“Hopefully it’s just a knock and he can play in Germany on Tuesday [against RB Leipzig in the Champions League].”
Player of the match
Bernardo SilvaBernardo Silva
with an average of 8.83
Squad number26Player nameBachmann
Squad number8Player nameCleverley
Squad number29Player nameCucho Hernández
Squad number25Player nameDennis
Squad number19Player nameSissoko
Squad number21Player nameKiko Femenía
Squad number10Player nameJoão Pedro
Squad number5Player nameTroost-Ekong
Squad number33Player nameKucka
Squad number7Player nameKing
Squad number6Player nameLouza
Squad number15Player nameCathcart
Squad number2Player nameNgakia
Squad number3Player nameRose
Squad number20Player nameBernardo Silva
Squad number10Player nameGrealish
Squad number47Player nameFoden
Squad number27Player nameJoão Cancelo
Squad number8Player nameGündogan
Squad number3Player nameRúben Dias
Squad number2Player nameWalker
Squad number16Player nameRodri
Squad number31Player nameEderson
Squad number14Player nameLaporte
Squad number9Player nameGabriel Jesus
Squad number17Player nameDe Bruyne
Squad number26Player nameMahrez
Squad number7Player nameSterling
- 15CathcartBooked at 85mins
- 3RoseBooked at 31minsSubstituted forNgakiaat 71′minutes
- 6LouzaSubstituted forHernándezat 45′minutes
- 8CleverleySubstituted forKuckaat 45′minutes
- 10João Pedro
- 7KingBooked at 7mins
- 3Rúben Dias
- 8GündoganSubstituted forDe Bruyneat 67′minutes
- 20Bernardo Silva
- 10GrealishSubstituted forMahrezat 68′minutes
- 47FodenSubstituted forGabriel Jesusat 75′minutes
- 9Gabriel Jesus
- 17De Bruyne
- Simon Hooper
Match ends, Watford 1, Manchester City 3.
Second Half ends, Watford 1, Manchester City 3.
Attempt missed. Jeremy Ngakia (Watford) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Cucho Hernández with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Watford. Conceded by Rúben Dias.
Corner, Watford. Conceded by Kevin De Bruyne.
Attempt saved. João Cancelo (Manchester City) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Kevin De Bruyne.
Foul by Bernardo Silva (Manchester City).
Cucho Hernández (Watford) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Attempt missed. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) right footed shot from outside the box is just a bit too high. Assisted by Riyad Mahrez.
Craig Cathcart (Watford) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Craig Cathcart (Watford).
Attempt blocked. Bernardo Silva (Manchester City) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Gabriel Jesus.
Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by William Troost-Ekong.
Attempt blocked. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Bernardo Silva.
Foul by Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).
Kiko Femenía (Watford) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) right footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by Bernardo Silva.
Attempt missed. Joshua King (Watford) right footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Cucho Hernández with a cross.
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
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