Bernardo Silva netted his first career hat-trick as Manchester City celebrated their 125th anniversary with a record-breaking 8-0 home victory against a woeful Watford display on Saturday lunchtime. But what were five talking points from their memorable win here?
Pep Guardiola was expecting a spirited response from his players after their humbling 3-2 defeat by newly-promoted Norwich last weekend, but even the Spaniard could not have foreseen what transpired in the opening 20 minutes here. The Citizens raced into a dominant five-goal lead after 18 minutes, with five different scorers against a stunned backline who were being run ragged.
David Silva broke the deadlock after just 52 seconds, following a brilliant Kevin de Bruyne pass which found him unmarked in the area. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Five minutes later, Riyad Mahrez won a penalty after being needlessly fouled by the onrushing Ben Foster. Sergio Aguero duly stepped up and made no mistake, netting his 100th home Premier League goal – which surprisingly proved his only strike of this demolition job.
Mahrez wheeled away to celebrate his first league goal of the season minutes later, as his deflected free-kick ricocheted off Tom Cleverley’s face and swerved into the bottom corner.
Watford were defensively erratic and ruthlessly punished again, this time from a corner with Bernardo Silva the beneficiary after Nicolas Otamendi’s headed flick-on set up a chance he couldn’t miss.
After a forgettable display last weekend, Otamendi swiftly turned goalscorer after a quick free-kick routine caught Watford’s retreating backline unaware. Aguero fired the ball low and across goal, with his compatriot gifted an easy tap-in. Aguero hit the post twice, de Bruyne was an ever-present threat while Bernardo Silva too missed a good chance. He would soon atone for that.
The Portugal international applied the finishing touch after intricate work alongside Silva, jinking through the box exposed Watford’s woeful defending as they failed to clear their lines in the build-up. Then, he completed his hat-trick with a scruffy finish but one set on a plate for him by de Bruyne, unleashing another brilliant pass across the box. 7-0.
You could hardly blame Kevin for wanting one himself after watching countless opportunities go to waste as City continued overwhelming their visitors, but the game’s best goal was left to last.
He unleashed a strike which flew beyond the helpless Foster, an effort with no backlift and equally no chance of stopping the finish either. He could have equalled the Premier League record (Manchester United 9-0 Ipswich, 1995) late on, but dragged his eventual effort wide after a slaloming run into the box went unrewarded.
The result sees City return to second place (13 points after six matches). They are two behind closest rivals Liverpool who travel to west London with Chelsea on Sunday. So, here’s a look at five talking points from a game that will live long in history for years to come:
#5 Watford horrifically exposed in club’s worst-ever defeat
In recent seasons, this City side has displayed their capability to blitz opposing teams apart on the counter-attack and simply overwhelm them into a heavy defeat. On this occasion, it was no different – though Watford essentially relented quicker than any other side had previously done.
The fact they were 5-0 down before 20 minutes speaks volumes, though it was a combination of horrendous defending and ruthless City taking advantage that ultimately proved pivotal.
So much so that the sky Blues continued in their search for more goals and probably would’ve been disappointed to only record five at half-time, rather than seven or eight. They simply dismantled a dishevelled backline who were overrun and embarrassed in transition.
Perhaps the most worrying thing was how easily they were conceding these strikes, whether that be shots on target or gifting a team of City’s calibre more opportunities to score than is generally accepted – even away from home – against the defending champions. Before ten minutes were up, any semblance of a gameplan had already gone out the window.
Giving their hosts ample time and space in possession proved costly, as evidenced by all of City’s first five goals (excluding number three, a fortunate free-kick). Watford were already playing damage limitation and chasing shadows, which is far from ideal against a team as unforgiving as Pep’s sides can be.
#4 Fernandinho watch alongside Otamendi, who has point to prove
John Stones’ recent training injury is set to see him return to the sidelines for a month, leaving Pep with one recognised central defender. Nicolas Otamendi, who hasn’t exactly impressed in a defensive sense over the past eighteen months, is that man.
So you could excuse the wishful thinking that Quique Sanchez Flores would have instilled into his team pre-match, particularly after the Argentine’s troubling display away against Norwich.
Despite an early scare, where the 32-year-old had to be bailed out by an alert Ederson, there was no repeat of that performance. Mainly because Watford only registered xxx shots and barely had possession for large periods on this occasion.
Alongside him was Fernandinho, who again filled in admirably at centre-back and has proven his versatility to play the position competently. Already 34 and reportedly expecting to transition to coaching, like Mikel Arteta and those before him, the Brazilian didn’t look out of place alongside a vulnerable Argentine who ultimately has a point to prove unless he wants to be replaced in the not-too-distant future.
Rodri continues to improve in what was previously seen as the Fernandinho role, meaning Pep has more tactical flexibility and can use him deeper while retaining the same principles he would have learned from defensive-midfield.
#3 a good display but now mahrez, time to remain in the team
You could probably excuse the collective surprise as Raheem Sterling was left an unused substitute on this occasion, rather than getting his name on the scoresheet with a handful of goals and assists.
If there was ever a game that Sterling would have relished featuring in, it would have been this one: he boasts an impressive record against the Hornets, with eight goals and two assists in seven games. But then again, we’re in late September and rotation is an important policy Pep wants to utilise. So it made sense to start Riyad Mahrez, who has fluttered and frustrated since a £60m move from Leicester last summer.
If ever there was a time for the Algeria captain to step up to the fore, now is it. Leroy Sane (ACL) sidelined until early 2020 and Sterling resting on the bench here, he needs to get more involved and have a long-lasting impact on his manager, providing more of a selection dilemma than in previous instances.
His opening weekend performance against West Ham typified that, creating three assists – though he has frustrated with opportunities in the team since then. He scored one and created another in midweek away against Shakthar Donetsk on Champions League matchday one, which is likely to have played into the Spaniard’s thinking behind this decision.
It’s all well and good flourishing against weak opposition, but it’s another thing to replicate it on a weekly basis. Consistency has always been a question of the 28-year-old since winning PFA’s Player of the Year in 2016/17 and in truth, his playstyle doesn’t exactly help matters either when he’s off-the-ball. However, it’s high time he steps up and makes himself more valued.
#2 What’s next for Quique Sanchez Flores & his despondent side?
A penny for Javi Gracia’s thoughts? After their encouraging 2-2 comeback draw against Arsenal last time out, it has been one step forward and four steps back for Watford with this display.
This was their worst defeat in club history and you could only empathise with travelling supporters, who ventured 200 miles north to witness a dismal display which never truly warranted their attention barring the opening five minutes. Even then, they were already a goal down and things seemed ominous. They had no idea what was to come.
Pathetic, woeful, inexcusable. The words used to describe their collective performance could not be understated, regardless of whether they were playing against the league’s best team or a mid-table side. Losing the way they did? They ultimately had the woodwork and some wasteful finishing to thank, otherwise they would have easily been staring down a record double-digits defeat.
All things considered, Gracia’s sacking was poorly-timed. However Sanchez Flores had spent eleven months at Vicarage Road himself before departing in 2016, representing a likeable, familiar face and importantly a convenient hire given their troubling circumstances.
The Hornets are at the foot of the table with two points from six games, have netted four goals and conceded 18 to start the 2019/20 campaign. It wasn’t too long ago they were chasing a European place and earned their way into an FA Cup Final – one where City themselves also routed them 6-0 at Wembley that afternoon in May.
Two successive draws (Newcastle and Arsenal) have been overseen by two different managerial personnel and continuity is key. They host Championship side Swansea on Tuesday in the EFL Cup before Premier League fixtures return fiercer than ever and it’s imperative they pick up points quickly, unless they relish being embroiled in a relegation battle.
In hindsight, it’s easy to criticise. The absence of a bonafide centre-forward saw Gerard Deulofeu, Watford’s brightest player, largely isolated on this occasion. Will Hughes isn’t a winger, Tom Cleverley not good enough to play as a number ten and Dimitri Foulquier?
The less said about the Frenchman and his 32-minute appearance here, the better. Their backline hasn’t improved over this summer, while club-record signing Ismaila Sarr was only deemed worthy of 30 minutes. Andre Gray was arguably their best player and the 28-year-old played just 15. Nonetheless, there’s no time to lick the wounds.
Wolves, Sheffield United, Tottenham, Bournemouth, Chelsea and Norwich are the Hornets’ next six league fixtures. Between them, they have recorded eleven wins this term but all have their weaknesses and represent winnable fixtures that QSF must build his side back up for after a dismal away display here.
#1 Bernardo silva, de Bruyne shine in vastly different ways
Bernardo Silva has asserted himself as one of Pep’s most reliable performers and earned his starting berth in a variety of midfield positions over the past eighteen months. However, one criticism of the Portugal international’s game is that there’s still room for improvement in a creative sense. Despite the all-action midfield displays, orchestrating attacks for teammates or harrying opponents into mistakes, he doesn’t get involved enough in the final third.
That’s largely to do with his positional awareness and a tendency to defer to other creative players – Sterling, Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne, for example. On this occasion, he netted his first career hat-trick and it’s sure to give him plenty of confidence.
To contrast last season, he netted 13 goals and created 13 more across all competitions in 48 games. Although he continues asserting his world-class quality, if he wants to be respected on a wider scale in Europe and worldwide, he must take his attacking repertoire to the next level in that regard – something Raheem learned the hard way after criticism over previous seasons gone by.
As for de Bruyne, he’s earned that respect and worldwide acclaim after consistently brilliant performances at club and international level for a number of seasons now. The issue for him is that last term, City won the league largely without their chief playmaker and it had critics question whether he really was their best player after all, considering how integral he is to their play between midfield and attack.
Performances like his on this occasion reaffirm the fact he’s indispensable to Pep and equally his teammates. He oozes class and is a crucial player, one Watford simply gave too much respect to on this occasion. The match statistics speak for themselves: a whopping eight key passes, four big chances created, 87.9% pass completion rate, four dribbles completed. Netting one goal and creating two more but if you watch the game back again, really he could’ve had more across both categories.
Although many have already suggested he’ll be rested at specific points over the season to manage his workload, it’s understandable given they’re eager to avoid a recurrence of the knee and muscular injuries that plagued him last term.
Stats’ source: SofaScore and WhoScored