Guardiola praises ‘legend’ Agüero after hat-trick lifts City to the top with six-goal thrashing of Watford
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.
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’
Getting soaked: Sergio Agüero (far left) heads Manchester City’s first goal at a wet Vicarage Road.