WATFORD, England — Three thoughts on Manchester City’s 6-0 win at Watford in the Premier League.
1. Man City march into top spot
The attacking talent that Pep Guardiola has at his disposal at Manchester City was too much for Watford. With Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva pulling the strings in midfield, Sergio Aguero grabbing a hat trick and Gabriel Jesus also scoring, an awesome six-shooting display of attacking quality fired the Vicarage Road visitors top of the Premier League.
In a fateful first half, Watford’s spells of possession were brief, with long-range potshots and set pieces the order of the day for their attempts at goal. Forwards Andre Gray and Richarlison were chasing shadows, though the Brazilian missed the best early chance of the game when nodding a Jose Holebas free kick wide in the 24th minute. Watford would be duly punished.
Within three minutes, City went ahead after De Bruyne’s free kick found Aguero open to nod home. The Argentinian striker compounded Watford’s regrets by scoring his second from close range in the 31st minute; he could barely miss after Gabriel Jesus blazed down the left, then released David Silva on his outside. Silva’s lateral pass eluded Heurelho Gomes and left Aguero with the simplest of conversions.
Next came Aguero’s turn to play provider. Surging into an inside-left position, he played in Jesus for the third. Watford fans called offside, having already been aggrieved over Aguero’s first. TV replays suggested they were right about both; the first was a borderline decision, but Jesus was a yard offside. However, a lack of complaints from Watford’s players perhaps reflected an acceptance of their fate.
They were powerless to exert pressure on City’s back four, where Fernandinho often operated as an auxiliary defender ahead of a partnership of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi. It is a pairing about which there have been doubts, but they were on cruise control here with Stones, aside from being turned by Andre Carillo at the start of the second half, excelling both defensively and when stepping out to start attacks.
Otamendi, following in the footsteps of his central defensive partner, who scored twice in midweek against Feyenoord, got himself on the scoresheet when heading in a cross from Silva in the 64th minute. Any Watford resistance, such as it had been in a slightly improved performance after the break, was now broken.
Aguero notched his treble with a fine finish after being released by an overlapping Kyle Walker and, when Raheem Sterling was fouled by Christian Kabasele, he stepped up himself to notch a goal from the penalty spot.
2. De Bruyne at his brilliant best
De Bruyne’s talent has never been in much doubt, give or take Jose Mourinho’s sidelining of him at Chelsea, but his conversion into City’s deep-lying playmaker reveals a new dimension to his excellence. It also has solved the conundrum of fitting him and David Silva into the same team and, when City enjoy the dominance of possession they exerted here, using two players with eyes for a through ball makes perfect sense.
Not that De Bruyne was sat deep alongside Fernandinho the whole match. At one point in the early stages, he and Sterling exchanged positions and it was De Bruyne who got to the byline to supply a cross. In the 10th minute, he again overlapped and Sterling should have done rather better than swing and miss at an exquisitely delivered volley of a pass.
With the score still 0-0, Sterling was also the recipient of a delicious through ball from De Bruyne and a goal seemed certain before Kabasele made an excellent last-ditch intervention. It would though not be long, though, until De Bruyne’s brilliance began Watford’s rout with a laser-guided assist for Aguero’s first.
In tougher assignments against better teams, De Bruyne, not one of the game’s great tacklers, might be a risky selection in central midfield, but when allowed the space and responsibility he enjoyed here, he is a joy to watch. He deserved his standing ovation when replaced by Ilkay Gundogan, whose first appearance since December last year brought even more cheer to Guardiola.
3. Reality check for Watford
Had Watford won this match they would have ended Saturday top of the table themselves; the last time that happened was in September 1982, following an 8-0 defeat of Sunderland.
Marco Silva’s arrival in Hertfordshire had brought an unbeaten start to the season but it was not to be sustained. After a 3-3 opening day draw with Liverpool, Watford had kept a series of clean sheets but, with respect to Bournemouth, Brighton and Southampton, had not faced an opponent of such elite attacking quality. As City ran rampant, they always looked capable of surpassing last season’s final-day 5-0 victory.
That afternoon is recalled by Watford fans for Walter Mazzarri being in the dugout despite already having been sacked. If Watford fold as readily as they did here on a regular basis, Silva might find himself facing a similar fate to his predecessor and Quique Sanchez Flores, who were both removed after a single season in charge.
Though fans turned their anger on referee Neil Swarbrick rather than the team, this was a chastening afternoon for Watford’s manager and his players.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.