Manchester City got their swagger back to go four points clear at the top of the Premier League table with a 3-1 victory over Watford.
The Hornets began the game with every player parked behind the ball in their own half, as they absorbed wave after wave of City attacks.
Fortunately for Javi Gracia’s men, City could not find a way through the heavy traffic and when they did they squandered their opportunities, with Sergio Aguero botching the Citizens’ only clear chance in the first half.
Pep Guardiola must have prepared something really special on City’s changing room drawing board, as they wrapped up the game only 15 minutes after the break courtesy of a sensational hat-trick from Raheem Sterling. The Englishman nabbed his match ball for City with a fortunate goal, a tap in and a superb individual effort before being taken off shortly after.
Watford responded via Gerard Deulofeu’s effort, 17 seconds after the Spaniard entering the fray, though it was nothing more than a consolation.
Here are five things we learned from Saturday’s late afternoon kick off.
1.Fernandinho’s boots are too big for Gundogan to fill
Regardless of absentees, City are always a formidable force as they have extraordinary strength in depth, but Pep Guardiola’s side tend to fall way short of their peak when Fernandinho is unavailable.
İlkay Gundogan came into the starting XI to take the absent Brazilian’s place in central midfield, and although the German showed his subtle skills on the ball, he was unable to anchor City in the same way that their inimitable No. 25 does.
The Germany international’s final ball was not up to scratch at the Etihad and he should have been booked after making several unnecessary fouls in the first half.
The 28-year-old was sharper after the break and distributed the ball well, but he produced nothing to convince Guardiola that Fernandinho shouldn’t remain City’s first choice.
2.Watford still haven’t beaten City in the Premier League
Nobody was expecting much from Watford on Saturday evening, as they haven’t fared particularly well against top-six sides this term. But after finishing the first half on level pegging it was not inconceivable that the Hornets could earn a point in Manchester.
Prior to kick off Man City had never lost a Premier League game against Watford, winning seven and drawing two. The Citizens have won the last seven meetings in a row by an aggregate score of 22-3.
Saturday’s victory takes that to eight games in a row with an aggregate of 25-4. Pretty convincing to say the least.
3. It only takes one crack for City to burst through the dam
City’s players looked flustered as they exited the pitch at the end of the first half, after struggling to break down Watford’s back 11. The Hornets’ human wall remained heavily manned when the second half got under way, but received its first crack only a minute after the restart when Sterling rode his luck to open the scoring.
That crack is typically all the boys in sky blue need to smash through the sturdiest of blockades and Sterling was on hand to bury the visitors with two additional strikes.
Watford will be thanking their lucky stars that the England international was taken off shortly after his man-of-the-match performance – which Sterling earned with half an hour left to play – as those three goals were all City could manage at the Etihad this evening.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.
4. Sterling’s hat-trick was the fastest in over two years
Raheem Sterling has scored his second Premier League hat-trick:
18 goals for the season. 💪 pic.twitter.com/32Kr8gOqBH
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 9, 2019
Sterling scored his second Premier League hat-trick in 13 minutes and 12 seconds – the fastest in the Premier League since Romelu Lukaku’s scored three for Everton against Sunderland in September 2016 – in 11 minutes and 37 seconds.
The England international’s first goal was the most fortunate of the bunch and if VAR was on duty it would have been ruled out as he received the ball from an offside position.
The 24-year-old’s second goal – a tap-in from a couple of feet – was Manchester City’s 150th Premier League goal at the Etihad under Pep Guardiola. Sterling’s third, scored under the typical Mancunian drizzle, was a fantastic individual effort as he cut in from the left flank, flummoxing everyone and finishing with panache.
5. Deulofeu is fastest sub to score since 2014
Watford’s last eight Premier League goals:
What a double sub that was. 😳 pic.twitter.com/y6JCNXdcit
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 9, 2019
The Spaniard’s composed finish was purely academic when the final whistle blew, but it was a remarkable one, nonetheless.
The former Everton forward scored with his first touch after playing for only 17 seconds, and scored the quickest goal by a substitute in the Premier League since October 2014, when Sammy Ameobi found the net after eight seconds for Newcastle.
Deulofeu’s goal was also the first shot on target City had faced since Andy Carroll had a go in the 50th minute of their 1-0 win against West Ham United on February 27. Since then, 196 minutes of football had elapsed.
Sadly for travelling Watford fans, none of that matters as they head back to the south with their tale firmly between their legs after failing, yet again, to get the better of City.