It wasn’t pretty – and many home supporters won’t mind that fact – but City’s fractured 2-0 win over Watford is certain to have Pep Guardiola scratching his head in bewilderment.
The Sky Blues seemed to take ever lesson they’d learned from the master coach about passing precision and movement off the ball… and promptly forget it all the moment they walked onto the pitch. City’s passing went missing today, and without their customary accuracy and efficiency they looked ordinary.
Credit to Watford; they came to Etihad Stadium as underdogs but for large parts of the match they were equal to their rivals. Their aggressive pressing tactics in midfield seemed to catch City off guard. Watford were constantly going hard for the ball and shutting down space. It forced Manchester City to adjust. The tactic slowed down their play and robbed their creative playmakers of inspiration and opportunity. Everything City did had to be manufactured and workman-like – devoid of the normal flair associated with the Guardiola style of play.
City’s first chance came in the 35th minute when Aguero finally got on the ball. He beat a tackle on the edge of the box but shot wide.
The first of Manchester City’s goals came in the 41st minute at the end of a frustrating half of poor passing and sloppy ball control.
Silva’s corner was whipped in to Aguero positioned at the front post. The big target-man leaped above the challenge of Watford’s Sebastian Prodl and headed the ball into the back of the net.
Close to half-time. Watford pull everybody back to defend the corner kick.
Sergio Aguero at the front post beats an aerial challenge from Sebastian Prodl and heads the ball into the back of the net for City’s opening goal of the match.
The second 45 minute period was much the same as the first; City struggling for cohesion against a Watford midfield that gave them no space and no time to exploit. Chances were few and far between, and it wasn’t until the 73rd minute that Sterling and De Bruyne were able to combine effectively in midfield. Sterling’s pass found De Bruyne who laid off a beautiful ball to release Aguero behind the Watford back four. An inch was all Aguero needed. He seized his chance with a well-struck shot that Watford’s goalkeeper couldn’t keep out .
Aguero on goal again after a sublime pass from De Bruyne put the striker in behind the defense.
Just three minutes later, Manchester City were almost on goal again after a breathtaking piece of individual skill. Pouncing on a wayward Watford pass, Aguero dribbled around two defenders and then laid a perfect ball to the top of the penalty box for De Bruyne, whose shot went frustratingly wide.
De Bruyne drives inside the penalty box, but his shot sails frustratingly wide.
It was the last opportunity in the match for either side, and when the referee blew the whistle to end play, City fans seemed more relieved than pleased. Guardiola could have been forgiven for feeling the same way…