Man City battle to victory over Watford

Pablo Zabaleta

Manchester City right-back Zabaleta scored his first goal since a Champions League tie against Roma on 10 December 2014

Manchester City earned their first Premier League home win in almost three months as they battled past Watford at Etihad Stadium.

The fourth-placed Blues, looking to avoid a third top-flight defeat in a row, led when an unmarked Pablo Zabaleta calmly side-footed in Kevin de Bruyne’s deep cross.

Raheem Sterling clipped the Watford bar after the break, before Odion Ighalo poked over the away team’s best chance.

And the Hornets, who drop to 11th, were punished when David Silva tucked in a late second on his 200th league appearance after a swift City break.

But the one negative for Blues manager Pep Guardiola was Germany midfielder Ilkay Gundogan suffering a serious knee injury that the Spaniard said will keep him out “for several months”.

City finally find home comfort

Cast your mind back to the end of September. Manchester City had won their first 10 matches under Pep Guardiola, including their opening six Premier League games to move four points clear at the top of the table.

Fast forward to mid-December and the picture is less rosy.

Guardiola’s side have since dropped from the summit, losing ground on their title rivals after winning just four of their previous 15 matches going into Watford’s visit.

Questions have been raised about the acclaimed Spanish manager’s methods, which brought him such great success at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Blues had not won a top-flight match in front of their own fans since that 10th successive win – a 4-0 victory against Bournemouth on 17 September.

And while their performance lacked the vigour and verve of those early days under Guardiola, the Blues will surely be more than content with a gritty display that keeps them in fourth position.

“It has been a long time without a win playing at home, it has been strange,” said Zabaleta.

City remain seven points behind leaders Chelsea, now a point behind Liverpool and Arsenal – with the Gunners visiting the Etihad on Sunday.

Bravo ‘excellent’ as Man City finally tighten up

Where City’s problems have stemmed from in recent weeks is quite clear – their leaky defence.

The Blues had kept just one clean sheet in their 17 previous matches and, following Saturday’s embarrassing 4-2 defeat at champions Leicester City, Guardiola changed his defence in both personnel and formation.

England centre-back John Stones was the notable casualty, dropping to the bench as his boss switched from three centre-backs to a four-man defence.

As a result, they looked more organised and resolute than any other time in the past two months.

“It was not the prettiest game tonight but we had determination to win the game. We had the clean sheet we’ve been talking about and were solid defensively,” added Zabaleta.

However, they were still almost punished when striker Ighalo escaped Zabaleta – but he guided Norden Amrabat’s right-wing cross over the bar.

The Blues were also grateful to goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who has received some criticism from City fans, for a smart stop from Hornets midfielder Etienne Capoue.

“It is not easy to come to a new club and a new country,” said Guardiola about the Chile international, who arrived from Barcelona in the summer.

“I know what people say about him, but he has good experience. When moments arrive he has to be brave. Today he was excellent.”

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Man City played with spirit – Guardiola

New-look Hornets attack fails to shine

Watford have shown two sides to their character under Italian manager Walter Mazzarri – one which is good enough to beat Manchester United and Everton to climb as high as seventh, plus the one which capitulated in a 6-1 thrashing by Liverpool earlier in the season and lost four on the bounce before beating the Toffees at the weekend.

This Hornets performance was somewhere in the middle. They showed resilience in not allowing City to carve them open, but chances at the other end were limited.

Despite sticking three past Everton at the weekend, Mazzarri’s side have not found goals easy to come by all season.

Skipper Troy Deeney has not scored since 1 October after failing to net in his past eight appearances, eventually paying the price as he was dropped to the bench at the Etihad.

Instead Mazzarri put together a new-look strike partnership of last season’s top scorer Ighalo and 20-year-old former Liverpool forward Jerome Sinclair.

Sinclair, making his full debut following a £4m summer move, was a peripheral figure, while Ighalo worked hard but blew his first real sight of goal in the final stages.

The defeat, coupled with points for West Brom and Southampton, meant Watford drop down to 11th.

Man City beat Watford<!–

Watford forward Jerome Sinclair had a quiet full debut, managing just 11 touches in his 72 minutes. Only City keeper Claudio Bravo had fewer touches at the time Sinclair left the field

We deserved a point – Mazzarri

Watford manager Walter Mazzarri:

“We were unlucky because of the chance for Ighalo. If he had scored we would have drawn the game and in my opinion that would have been the fair result.

“Ighalo played a great game and he deserved to score. But my whole team played well and they deserved something more. I’m very happy with them.

On midfielder Roberto Pererya going off injured: “He has a knee problem. We need to understand what it is. We will know in the next days. We have not been lucky with injuries. I am not happy with this one.

“I don’t know how bad it is. I also asked during the game if he felt a twist. He said it was a knock. I am not sure.”

On leaving Deeney out: “We wanted to get Deeney ready for Sunderland. We have three games in a week and he is on four yellow cards.”

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Mazzarri rues Ighalo miss

Watford don’t like Wednesdays – the stats

  • City have won five and drawn two of their past seven league games against Watford
  • Silva scored his first Premier League goal since January 2016, ending a run of 23 games without a goal
  • Since De Bruyne’s Premier League debut in September 2015, only Mesut Ozil (20) has assisted more goals than his 17
  • Sterling has already eclipsed his Premier League assist tally for last season (two), having assisted three goals this season
  • Seven of Pablo Zabaleta’s nine Premier League goals have been scored at Etihad Stadium
  • Watford have never won a Premier League match on a Wednesday, losing eight out of 10
  • Yaya Toure and Silva both played their 200th Premier League games for Manchester City
  • Deeney has featured in all of Watford’s past 57 matches in all competitions – that run began with last season’s away Premier League match at Manchester City in August

Analysis

Former England defender Phil Neville on Match of the Day:

It was not about the performance tonight, it was about getting the result. They did not play at their fluent best but they did score a couple of really good goals.

It wasn’t convincing, it was a bit of a nervous atmosphere at the Etihad today but it was an important three points.

It’s pathetic that Pep Guardiola has been getting criticism so soon into a season. We wanted Pep to come to England and now we are trying to destroy him, I don’t get it.

What’s next?

Another Premier League home game for Manchester City – against title rivals Arsenal. The Gunners visit the Etihad on Sunday (16:30 GMT).

The Hornets are back on the road at the weekend, travelling north again when they go to bottom side Sunderland on Saturday (15:00).

Live Text

Match ends, Manchester City 2, Watford 0.

Second Half ends, Manchester City 2, Watford 0.

Attempt saved. David Silva (Manchester City) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Raheem Sterling.

Corner, Manchester City. Conceded by Juan Zuñiga.

Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) wins a free kick on the left wing.

Foul by Juan Zuñiga (Watford).

Corner, Watford. Conceded by Gaël Clichy.

Substitution, Manchester City. Leroy Sané replaces Kevin De Bruyne.

Foul by Yaya Touré (Manchester City).

Etienne Capoue (Watford) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Jesús Navas (Manchester City) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by Isaac Success (Watford).

Offside, Manchester City. Jesús Navas tries a through ball, but Raheem Sterling is caught offside.

Goal! Manchester City 2, Watford 0. David Silva (Manchester City) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the top left corner. Assisted by Raheem Sterling.

Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Troy Deeney (Watford).

Attempt missed. Odion Ighalo (Watford) left footed shot from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Nordin Amrabat with a cross.

Substitution, Manchester City. Jesús Navas replaces Nolito.

Foul by Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City).

Isaac Success (Watford) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by José Holebas (Watford).

Delay over. They are ready to continue.

Delay in match Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) because of an injury.

Offside, Watford. Etienne Capoue tries a through ball, but Miguel Britos is caught offside.

Attempt saved. Etienne Capoue (Watford) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Miguel Britos.

Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Foul by Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City).

Isaac Success (Watford) wins a free kick on the left wing.

Etienne Capoue (Watford) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Etienne Capoue (Watford).

Substitution, Watford. Troy Deeney replaces Jerome Sinclair.

Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by José Holebas (Watford).

Foul by Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City).

Isaac Success (Watford) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Yaya Touré (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Jerome Sinclair (Watford).

Attempt missed. Adlène Guédioura (Watford) right footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by José Holebas from a direct free kick.

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