Goals from Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez gave Manchester City a hard-fought win at Watford which re-established their five-point cushion at the top of the Premier League table.
City had been frustrated early on by saves from Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster until Sane scored in the 40th minute by diverting in Mahrez’s inswinging cross with his chest.
Six minutes after half-time Mahrez – recalled as manager Pep Guardiola once again rotated his team – increased the lead by sweeping in Gabriel Jesus’ cross at the back post.
City controlled the game with more than 70% of possession but Abdoulaye Doucoure scrambled in for Watford in the 85th minute to give the hosts hope of an unlikely comeback.
That resulted in a nervy finish for City as the hosts sent Foster forward for set-pieces, with Guardiola introducing defensive reinforcements to deal with the pressure, but the visitors held on for their seventh successive league win.
The victory moves them five points clear of second-placed Liverpool, who will again try to reduce the gap when they travel to Burnley on Wednesday.
Squad depth helps City rumble on
The trip to Vicarage Road was City’s second of 13 matches in 44 days and manager Pep Guardiola once again rotated his squad, as he did in the weekend win over Bournemouth.
Sergio Aguero remained sidelined with injury, top scorer Raheem Sterling was rested and an entirely different back four was brought in, including captain Vincent Kompany and England defenders Kyle Walker and John Stones.
Mahrez and David Silva were two of those rested at the weekend and both returned and were influential throughout.
City would have added more goals but for the excellence of Foster, who denied Mahrez and Sane when one-on-one in the first half.
He also produced a fine low save to stop the Algerian’s 20-yard shot in the second.
The edgy finish to the game was in stark contrast to the rest of the match when City looked in control.
The Watford goal came just two minutes after Kompany left the field holding his hamstring, something which will be of concern with the number of games to come in the coming weeks, and suddenly City’s defence looked flustered.
Regardless City held on for their 13th win from 15 games this season and remain unbeaten.
Watford show promise
Defeat for Watford sees them remain in their slump following an impressive start to the season. They have won just two of their last 11 games, after winning their first four this season.
It is the first time they have lost three consecutive games under Javi Gracia and they now have their lowest points total after 15 games in their four seasons since returning to the top flight.
However there is no greater challenge currently than facing Guardiola’s City and there were positives for Watford.
They had few chances but, at 0-0, City goalkeeper Ederson saved well with his legs from Troy Deeney and they did manage to worry their opponents in the closing stages.
Foster was excellent in goal and while City dominated possession, Watford did not allow themselves to be cut apart and managed to stay in the game.
Man of the match – Riyad Mahrez
‘You can never relax’ – manager reaction
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola: “You can never relax in the Premier League, that’s why it is nice. It is never over at 2-0, you need the third goal. We were much the better side, we deserved to win but you have to kill. In the last few minutes they had chances.
“For five minutes they were better than us. It is not about breaking records, it’s winning games. You cannot win easily for 38 games, that is impossible.”
Watford boss Javi Gracia to BBC Sport: “You know they always dominate the game and create a lot of chances. Ben Foster was amazing, we showed very good spirit until the end and in the last few minutes we had the option to get a better result.
“I am proud of my players, it is difficult to compete with this very good team. We showed character and desire.”
City’s unbeaten run goes on – the best stats
- Man City’s goal difference of +38 is the best recorded by an English top-flight team after the first 15 games of a season since Sunderland in 1892-93 (+39).
- City have scored at least twice in their last nine games against Watford in all competitions, winning all nine by an aggregate score of 29-5.
- Watford have lost three in a row in the Premier League for the first time since December 2017 under Marco Silva (four games).
- City have now gone unbeaten in each of their last 21 games in the Premier League (W18, D3) since a 3-2 defeat against Manchester United in April.
- Riyad Mahrez has scored more Premier League goals versus Watford than against any other team (six).
- Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure scored his first Premier League goal in 30 appearances since netting versus Southampton in January.
City face third-placed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (kick-off 17:30 GMT) while Watford travel to Everton on Monday (20:00).