Manchester City went into their game against Watford hoping to continue their impressive start to the Premier League season. Last season’s runners-up have been flying early on and there was every reason for the home side to be confident at The Etihad Stadium.
Watford themselves will have had some reason for confidence too. The visitors were promoted last season and will be content with their early season results. From a relatively difficult opening three fixtures, they attained three draws and conceded only two goals. Whilst City were runaway favourites, there would be no excuse for complacency.
Manuel Pellegrini made the call that surely every City fan wanted him to make by sticking with the same line-up that had been so impressive in the previous two games. Fabian Delph was in the match day squad for the first time at the Etihad, following his short cameo at Everton a week previous. Also on the bench were the youthful figures of Maffeo Becerra, the great young hope that is Kelechi Iheanacho and summer recruit Patrick Roberts. Pellegrini seems intent on introducing young players soon – a useful antidote to those spitting feathers about the sale of Marcos Lopes this week.
So how were City?
Well…good. They were very, very good, in fact. Again. The Blues had almost complete control over the game, though it must be said that they never had it easy. In each of their games so far the level of dominance City have acquired has been earned. This was not a game given to them by an underdog that had accepted their fate.
It must be said that Watford set up with a very defensive outlook. So often, all of their players were in their own half. For the most part they defended well. They closed down space, their pressing was excellent and they gave Agüero very little room to work in. On this kind of performance, they have a very real chance of staying in the division this season.
However, City did have chances to take advantage of a few displays of naivety from the Hornets. On a few too many occasions for their liking they gave away needless fouls in fairly dangerous positions. City were unable to make the most of these, but set-pieces always looked like one possible route to breaking down a resilient away side.
Particularly impressive for the Etihad men again were David Silva, Raheem Sterling and the somewhat-transformed Bacary Sagna. It is no exaggeration to say that he is almost a different player to last season. Quite how you explain that I don’t know, but Manuel Pellegrini deserves immense credit for getting this level of performance from a player who could rate his previous campaign as no better than ‘average’. He is reading the game perfectly, making exquisite tackles as well as crucial blocks and he’s even a threatening attacking option.
This was evidenced by the quality of the cross that assisted City’s opening goal. Taking the ball out wide, he played a glorious ball into the box that Raheem Sterling met for his first competitive goal in his new colours. The finish was good too. To all intents and purposes it was a tap-in, but it required a measure of control and composure that supporters of his previous club would have you believe he doesn’t posses. It will surely do wonders for his confidence in front of goal in future.
That goal came just 88 seconds after the half-time break, blowing apart any plans that Watford had made during the interval.
The second goal came from another player who has had an assured start to the season; David Silva played a fine reverse ball to Fernandinho who rifled a stunning finish past Heurelho Gomes. The Brazilian was awarded Man of the Match at The Etihad and it was a deserved award. It would be easy for him to go unnoticed but it’s good to know that the home crowd appreciated his work; his partnership with Yaya Toure was crucial to the Blues’ title win in 2014 and it’s looking back to it’s best in the early parts of the current season.
We’ve spoke about already on Typical City about how City have great tactical versatility this season, and Pellegrini is certainly using it. He brought Samir Nasri on at half-time for Jesus Navas, who was having a reasonable game, and the it worked a treat. Silva drifted a little more to the right where he was able to pull the strings, having an important hand in both goals. Yaya Toure was able to burst through the middle a few times and Raheem Sterling moved in from the left.
With City finally about to add Kevin De Bruyne to their already impressive squad, their options will improve again. For any opponent, seeing the resources that the Blues have available must be intimidating. To see that Manuel Pellegrini is putting those resources to such effective use must be positively frightening.
A short conclusion
Four games played, 12 points attained, 10 goals scored and none conceded. Things could not be going better for City at the moment. Not only are the results and vital statistics extremely impressive, their performances and dominance of games is outstanding.
With Chelsea having only obtained four points and Arsenal twice slipping at home, City are stealing an early march on their key rivals. Whilst it is no time to be claiming that the Blues are on their way to the title just yet, the impact these early games will have could be significant in the final reckonings.
City have set themselves a benchmark that they must now not fall below.
Written by Richard Burns