Guardiola regards him just as a squad player, but Aguero hits stunning hat-trick as City throw down challenge to rivals
Going one better than the 5-0 scoreline they rattled up here last season, Manchester City netted three goals in each half to cruise to the top of the Premier League. Watching them in full majestic flow, watching the speed and fluency of their attacking efforts, watching the lynx-eyed certainty of their finishing, it is becoming increasingly hard to imagine anyone can now dislodge them. Here’s how good Pep Guardiola’s side are: he can field Nicolas Otamendi at centre-back and not for a moment look discomforted.
“I am a spectator like you, of course I did,” the City manager said when asked if he had enjoyed his team’s performance. “All managers like to see their team play good. I’m delighted for the players, the way we played.”
There was a rather fond suggestion before 3pm that Watford had the chance to go top for the first time since 1982. All they needed to do was win. But from the moment Sergio Aguero rolled the ball backwards from the kick-off, it was clear the chances of that were about as high as Noel Gallagher, sitting in the directors’ box alongside Elton John, turning up for the match arm in arm with his brother Liam.
It was not that Watford were poor. It was just that City are so well resourced they could afford once more to leave Yaya Toure off their team sheet. Not that they needed him. Their passing was crisp and imaginative, their running clever and direct. From the off they set up camp in the Watford half. At times, poor Heurelho Gomes in the home goal must have wondered at what point he had signed up to participate in a session of City shooting practice.
Things had barely got under way before David Silva’s brilliant cross-field pass found Kevin de Bruyne, whose first-time lay-off to Raheem Sterling merely managed to trip the forward up. A moment later Silva and De Bruyne eased once again through the Watford defence, but the Belgian snatched at his shot and fired wide. He soon made amends with a superb, raking rapier of a pass that found Aguero, who chipped the ball on the roof of the home goal.
It was but a hint of what was coming. Just after Watford’s Richarlison put a highly convertible chance wide of Ederson’s goal, City showed him how to finish. As the visitors advanced, Tom Cleverley, bemused by the blur of passing around him, brought down John Stones. At first the referee appeared to be playing advantage, but when Stones stumbled and lost the ball, he blew for a foul. De Bruyne then demonstrated his control of a football by bending the free-kick behind the Watford backline, perfectly finding Aguero’s forehead.
Three minutes later, Gabriel Jesus rolled Daryl Janmaat on the touchline, raced menacingly towards goal, before passing to Silva. The Spaniard’s deft cross was prodded away by Aguero arriving unnoticed at the far post. Then the Argentine turned provider, hitting the ball forward, allowing Jesus, from a position suspiciously offside, to evade his marker and skip in for the third.
“We’re Man City, we’re taking the p---,” sang the visiting crowd. It was hard to disagree with that assessment: 3-0 after 37 minutes. In the gathering of superannuated pop legends in the directors’ box, it was Gallagher who was grinning the widest.
Watford tried to come back after the break. Andre Carillo jinked his way into the City box, requiring some swift remedial work by the visiting defence. From the resulting corner Nathaniel Chalobah appeared to be felled waisthigh by Kyle Walker. But, much to the Watford man’s annoyance, the referee waved play on. Richarlison then headed wide from a corner.
The prospect of a Watford comeback, however, was fanciful. City were always there, lurking, ever dangerous, full of tricks and feints. And, after a quite breathtaking move between most of the front six ended with a scooped clearance, Otamendi neatly headed the fourth from a corner.
Then, after a delicious jinking run, Aguero completed his sixth City hattrick, moving to within three goals of becoming the club’s most successful ever goalscorer. Goal No6 came in the dying moments when skilful Sterling converted a penalty he had earned.
As the Watford fans scurried for the exits it might have seemed that their side’s unbeaten run to this point in the season was an aberration. In truth, however, Marco Silva’s side were not without merit. They battled and scrapped and never stopped harrying. And in Carillo they have a winger of calibre, who against lesser opposition might well carry a threat.
But here they were up against a more substantial side. The difference between the two operations was made plain when Guardiola, trussed up in a hoodie on the touchline, sent on substitutes: Bernando Silva, Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan. His dugout rival, meanwhile, sent on Roberto Pereyra, Troy Deeney and Etienne Capoue.
Before we can complain about the hopeless injustice of life, it is only right to point out that, while City might have access to much of the world’s supply of ready cash, if this is how they spend it few can complain.
Life in the old dog: Sergio Aguero - who has had his problems with the City manager - has now scored in eight consecutive away starts in the Premier League, one off the record
Over and rout: Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring Manchester City’s sixth and final goal