Watford’s thrilling start to this Premier League season ground to a shuddering halt this afternoon after they were soundly beaten by a free-flowing and free-scoring Manchester City side at Vicarage Road.
The Hornets were always going to be up against it, facing a City side who spent £220m this summer and one that arrived at Vicarage Road in red-hot form after putting nine unanswered goals past Liverpool and Feyenoord. Even Watford’s most famous fan, the watching Sir Elton John, would have known the Golden Boys had a job on their hands to extend their unbeaten run to a fifth match.
And so it proved as Sergio Aguero, twice, and Gabriel Jesus scored in the opening 37 minutes to virtually put the game to bed. The Hornets didn’t do too much wrong, in fact they could have scored through Richarlison when the game was goalless, but they just ran into a City side playing the sort of intricate, eye-catching football that has become the hallmark of Pep Guardiola’s sides.
It looked a question of how many they might get in the second half but, in the end, the visitors settled for just six, with Nicolàs Otamendi powering in the fourth with his head, the brilliant Aguero squeezing in the fifth for his hat-trick and then Raheem Sterling emphatically making it six from the spot. The last one put the seal on a chastening afternoon.
It was all hands to the pump, particularly in the first half, as City picked and probed a Hornets defence hit hard by the loss of Younès Kaboul, Sebastian Prödl and Miguel Britos. At times their slick attacking play was as relentless as the rain that came cascading down in the opening 45 minutes.
From the moment Fernandinho enjoyed the first effort on goal, a header from a Kevin De Bruyne corner, it was all City and it required some saves from Heurelho Gomes, albeit routine ones, and some fine last-ditch defending from every member of the back four to keep Guardiola’s side at bay.
In particular, Christian Kabasele’s tackle on Raheem Sterling in his own box was brilliantly timed while Daryl Janmaat showed great bravery at the far post to stop Otamendi from nodding in.
It was no surprise when the goal City had been threatening came, but the timing was odd as Watford had looked like they had weathered the early storm and had even started to threaten themselves, Richarlison glancing a header past Ederson but also agonisingly past the far post.
From a similarly positioned free-kick, Aguero made no mistake on 27 minutes, getting across the near post and rising highest to head in a cross from De Bruyne. It was the first league goal the Hornets had conceded in 330 minutes of football.
Having waited that long to ship one, it was two three minutes later and it was that man Aguero again. Jesus won a touchline duel with Janmaat, played in David Silva who crossed for Aguero to tap into an unguarded net. It was all too easy.
Just like they did in the final game of last season, a rampant City then had three by the 37th-minute mark, this time Aguero playing in Jesus for the third.
It felt like a case damage limitation thereafter but, to their credit, the Golden Boys came out on the front foot in the second half and had two efforts at goal, one from Holebas and one even closer from Andrè Carrillo, before City had even got into their stride again. Richarlison, who was again the Hornets’ most potent attacking weapon, then headed over a Holebas inswinging corner.
City were just that bit more clinical when chances came their way, none more so when from a headed chance of their own, Otamendi stole in between Nathaniel Chalobah and Holebas to power a header past Gomes on 63 minutes.
The Hornets never threw the towel in and neither did the Head Coach, who chucked on Etienne Capoue and Roberto Pereyra, two of his most creative players, from the bench in a bid to shift the balance.
And Capoue will wonder how he didn’t register his third of the goal of the season shortly after coming on, the Frenchman heading over from a Pereyra corner when it seemed easier to score.
Silva introduced Deeney in one final throw of the dice while Guardiola emptied his bench with the game sewn up, but there was still time for Aguero to claim his hat-trick, beating Gomes with an effort that went in off the post. Sterling’s late penalty, which he won after a late tackle from Kabasele, just rubbed salt into some gaping wounds.
HORNETS: Gomes (GK) (c); Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Chalobah (Capoue 69); Carrillo, Cleverley (Pereyra 64), Richarlison, Gray (Deeney 73).
Subs not used: Karnezis (GK), Wagué, Zeegelaar, Success.