A rout initiated by David Silva after 52 seconds showed one way Manchester City can negotiate having Aymeric Laporte and John Stones missing because of injury: simply make it 5-0 inside 18 minutes and so nullify any concerns regarding being weakened in central defence.
Pep Guardiola’s side will, of course, have tougher challenges than bottom-placed Watford, who are yet to win this season. But most teams will struggle to contain the champions of the past two campaigns when they are in this imperious mood, and City ended with a record league victory under the manager.
After Silva’s opener, Sergio Agüero (who has now scored in the opening six league games), Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Nicolás Otamendi all placed their name on the scoresheet in a start to the first half that will be recalled for a while. After the break Bernardo Silva scored twice more to make it 7-0 and Kevin De Bruyne hit a rocket past Ben Foster near the end, to make it a 35-3 aggregate to City in their past eight meetings with Watford.
Ever the perfectionist, Guardiola described the five-goal burst as “weird”, given that Gerard Deulofeu had skated past a hapless Otamendi and might have equalised after David Silva’s opener.
“It is weird, it is not normal,” he said. “Five shots, five goals. In the same time we gave them chances to score. The quality we have is a joy to watch. After 5-0 the game is completely different. We were ruthless in terms of five shots, five goals. Sometimes you shoot 15 times or 20 and can’t do it. It was a lovely day for all of us, for our City fans in the sunshine and a lot of goals.”
Guardiola again paired Otamendi and Fernandinho in central defence and there was a first start for Benjamin Mendy since mid-April because of another unfortunate injury layoff. The Frenchman – in for Oleksandr Zinchenko – was, like Fernandinho, one of four changes from last Saturday’s defeat at Norwich. Mahrez and De Bruyne were the other two, coming in for Ilkay Gündogan and Raheem Sterling.
Quique Sánchez Flores took out Christian Kabesele and Andre Gray for Dimitri Foulquier and Adrian Mariappa, the manager perhaps wishing he had the roughhouse qualities of the injured Troy Deeney to give Otamendi and Fernandinho a differing challenge to that of Shakhtar Donetsk, whom City coasted past to a midweek 3-0 Champions League win.
Guardiola was pleased with the response following Norwich. “The reaction against Shakhtar and today [was great]. Maybe you believe the team cannot lose a game – everyone can lose games. They are human beings and make mistakes. What we have to do is play the way we have played these two seasons. The team ahead of us [Liverpool] is one of the best teams I have seen in my football career as player and manager. They can do absolutely everything. In the last 18 months they lost one game in the Premier League. All we can do is be ourselves and we were ourselves.
“Pundits, former players, they were there and they lose games and they make mistakes and say without respect [when criticising] for all players out there doing the best. We are judged for the result, not the performance. Our performance in the last 400 days has been incredible.”
Sánchez Flores was dignified after this harrowing loss. Asked if he would punish his hapless players, the manager said: “You will know how football changes. When you lose and go to run for two hours in the forest – it is different now,” he said. “You need to be sensible because the players need to play again. It is not about running more, it is about being clever and smart. We need to forget this.”
So comfortable were the home side that Eric García was handed a Premier League debut after the seventh strike, the 18-year-old in effect the third-choice centre-back behind Otamendi, whom he replaced, and Fernandinho.
García will play against Preston on Tuesday in EFL Cup, Guardiola said. “He is an incredible guy. With the ball he is incredibly good. He pays attention in absolutely everything. We have doubts with the formation of Quique and Eric saw in the warm-up and said: ‘They make some movements for four in the back.’ Nobody told me, he saw that. He is so clever. He pays incredible attention. He played good and he is going to play a lot of minutes.”
This was only the second match of Sánchez Flores’s second Watford tenure. It would be interesting to know what Javi Gracia, sacked despite taking them to the FA Cup final, will think of this scoreline.
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