SER­GIO SURGE

Guardi­ola praises ‘leg­end’ Agüero af­ter hat-trick lifts City to the top with six-goal thrash­ing of Wat­ford

The Observer - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Paul Doyle

A jubilant Pep Guardi­ola be­lieves his Manch­ester City side are much bet­ter than last sea­son af­ter watch­ing his team thrash Wat­ford 6-0 and go top of the Premier League.

Guardi­ola said greater fa­mil­iar­ity with his meth­ods, plus lav­ish player re­cruit­ment, gives him con­fi­dence City will not dip as they did last sea­son. “I am de­lighted, so happy,” said Guardi­ola. “There are many things we are do­ing now that we didn’t do last sea­son.”

The City man­ager at­trib­uted last term’s 10-match win­ning start to a tem­po­rary feel­good fac­tor rather than the more sub­stan­tial ex­cel­lence he has seen in a week in which his team have struck 15 goals in three games, the win at Wat­ford com­ing on the back of vic­to­ries over Liver­pool and Feyeno­ord.

“Last sea­son there was new en­thu­si­asm with a new man­ager and new play­ers and ev­ery­body ex­pect­ing [a lot]. Now we are more sta­ble, we know each other bet­ter. And the new play­ers have come to help us be bet­ter. The fun­da­men­tals of what we do are the same but the dif­fer­ence is we have good bal­ance, good play­ers and good spirit.

“Day by day I say thank you to the club – to all the peo­ple in­volved for buy­ing these play­ers. All man­agers have their own good ideas of how to play but with­out these play­ers that we have right now, it’s more com­pli­cated.”

Guardi­ola cited, in par­tic­u­lar, the full-backs on whom City spent over £100m in the sum­mer, in­di­cat­ing that Kyle Walker and Ben­jamin Mendy have been in­te­gral to City’s im­proved bal­ance. The man­ager also of­fered spe­cial praise for Ser­gio Agüero, who plun­dered a hat-trick at Vicarage Road to draw within two goals of City’s all-time record scorer, Eric Brook. “He will beat it and hope­fully we will have a good cel­e­bra­tion for him be­cause he is a leg­end, part of the his­tory of our club.”

It was not al­ways ob­vi­ous that Agüero would con­tinue to thrive af­ter Guardi­ola’s ar­rival. Last sea­son the man­ager crit­i­cised the player, in­sist­ing he needed to make him­self even more use­ful to the team. Guardi­ola says Agüero has re­sponded as ex­pected and is now much more than a goal-scorer.

“He al­ways had that, he just needed to get more in­volved a lit­tle bit in the game,” said Guardi­ola. “He’s a guy you can en­cour­age to play, not just to score goals. I like to have de­fend­ers who do not just de­fend and at­tack­ers who do not just score.”

Wat­ford’s man­ager, Marco Silva, ad­mit­ted that City were su­pe­rior to his side but sug­gested that Agüero’s first goal was off­side, along with the one by Gabriel Je­sus. “City are strong enough to come here and cre­ate a lot of prob­lems for us and win as they want with­out off­side goals,” said Silva.

Guardi­ola re­mains aware that City have proved noth­ing yet: “This is very good pe­riod, I am cu­ri­ous to see how we re­act when things are not so good.”

WAT­FORD 0 MANCH­ESTER CITY 6 Agüero 27 31 81 Je­sus 37 Ota­mendi 63 Ster­ling 89pen

Manch­ester City have blasted their way to the top of the Premier League and only an ex­cep­tional team will be able to chal­lenge them. Wat­ford, watched by El­ton John and un­beaten be­fore Pep Guardi­ola’s men rocked up here, fan­cied their chances but were blown away by a three-goal salvo be­fore half-time.

City did not re­lent and struck the same num­ber again in the sec­ond half, bring­ing their tally to 15 goals from their past three matches, this demon­stra­tion of their at­tack­ing power com­ing af­ter the de­mo­li­tions of Liver­pool and Feyeno­ord.

City set­tled the con­test in the first half thanks to a three-goal salvo in 10 min­utes. Ser­gio Agüero scored twice and cre­ated one for Gabriel Je­sus. Ni­colás Ota­mendi added a fourth af­ter the in­ter­val with a close-range header. Then Agüero rounded off his hat­trick, which is why he was happy to let Ra­heem Ster­ling take the penalty when the winger was fouled a minute from time. Ster­ling ex­pressed his grat­i­tude by fin­ish­ing with the ruth­less­ness he some­times lacks.

Wat­ford had come into the game on the back of three suc­ces­sive clean sheets in the Premier League but with their first-choice cen­tre-backs still out in­jured ex­tend­ing that se­quence to four was al­ways go­ing to be a tall or­der against one of Europe’s most awe­some at­tack­ing forces.

Guardi­ola made one al­ter­ation to the City lineup that had started the mid­week dis­man­tling of Feyeno­ord in the Cham­pi­ons League, with Ster­ling re­plac­ing Bernardo Silva. It took him 20 sec­onds to make an im­pact as Ster­ling skit­tered down the right and de­liv­ered a low cross to David Silva. Adrian Mari­appa blocked the Spa­niard’s closerange shot, but the storm was never go­ing to abate.

David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne or­ches­trated City’s re­lent­less assaults. Ben­jamin Mendy thrashed a 20-yard shot just over the bar be­fore, in the 10th minute, David Silva swept a di­ag­o­nal pass over to De Bruyne, who cush­ioned the ball into the path of Ster­ling. How­ever, the Eng­land winger mis-hit his shot from 10 yards. That was the only stain on an oth­er­wise sparkling dis­play by Ster­ling.

De Bruyne and Agüero went close with shots from out­side the area as Wat­ford were cor­ralled deep into their own half. Yet in the 24th minute the hosts al­most took a sur­prise lead from their first ven­ture for­ward, Richarli­son meet­ing a free-kick by José Hole­bas and head­ing a yard wide.

Agüero soon showed the Brazil­ian how it should be done. In the 27th minute, af­ter Tom Clev­er­ley was pe­nalised near half­way for a foul on John Stones, De Bruyne flighted in the free­kick and Agüero headed past Heurelho Gomes, much to the an­noy­ance of Marco Silva, the Wat­ford man­ager ap­peal­ing vig­or­ously for off­side.

The rain was hurtling down and the sky soon fell in on Wat­ford. Agüero scored his sec­ond four min­utes later, tap­ping into the net from four yards af­ter ex­cel­lent work on the left by Je­sus and a fee­ble at­tempt by Gomes to cut out David Silva’s cross.

Agüero then be­came the sup­plier, run­ning at Wat­ford’s fraz­zled de­fence be­fore slip­ping a pass through to Je­sus, who fired into the bot­tom cor­ner of the net from 10 yards.

Wat­ford were in­fe­rior, no doubt about that, but never sub­mis­sive. They re­belled quite strongly at the start of the sec­ond half and even had Eder­son in the City goal wor­ried for a mo­ment, An­dré Car­rillo crack­ing a fine vol­ley a cou­ple of yards wide.

Then Agüero re­sumed his quest for his hat-trick, twice shoot­ing wide af­ter be­ing fed by Mendy. On the hour the Ar­gen­tinian was thwarted by Gomes, who bat­ted a crisp shot over the bar. The re­sul­tant cor­ner led to City’s fourth goal, Ota­mendi head­ing home a cross by David Silva.

Nine min­utes from time Agüero fi­nally com­pleted his tre­ble. And with brio, too. Af­ter a fine run and pass by Kyle Walker, the striker burst past Chris­tian Kabasele and guided a low shot be­yond the reach of the ad­vanc­ing Gomes.

Another tricky run by Ster­ling pro­voked a foul in the box in the 89th minute. The winger picked him­self up, con­sulted with Agüero and ri­fled the ball into the net from the penalty spot.

City, then, sur­passed the 5-0 de­feat they in­flicted on Wal­ter Maz­zarri’s Wat­ford back in May. Un­der Silva they are much bet­ter and went into this game know­ing that a win would send them to the top of English foot­ball for the first time since 1982-83. Gra­ham Tay­lor’s team fin­ished that cam­paign as run­ners-up. City were rel­e­gated. That part of the his­tory is cer­tainly not go­ing to be re­peated any time soon.

Dar­ren Sta­ples/ Reuters

GOAL MA­CHINE Fist-pump­ing joy for Ser­gio Agüero as the City striker com­pletes his hat-trick at Vicarage Road.

De­lighted: The win at Wat­ford left Pep Guardi­ola ‘so happy’

Dan Mul­lan/Getty Im­ages

Get­ting soaked: Ser­gio Agüero (far left) heads Manch­ester City’s first goal at a wet Vicarage Road.

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