1) Sterling is justifying his price tag
The accusation often levelled at Raheem Sterling is that he doesn’t score enough goals, so his first for Manchester City will have been a very welcome one. He hadn’t netted in his first three games since making the £49m move from Liverpool but his opener was always coming in this game against Watford.
Sterling was City’s brightest player in the first half; his skills on the ball were often too much for Watford and their Cameroonian right-back Allan Nyom. The only surprise was that it took until just before half-time for the typically combative Nyom – booked at least nine times in each of the last five seasons during an epic six-year loan spell at Granada from Udinese – to make his mark on Sterling and earn a yellow card.
Heurelho Gomes just about managed to prevent the former Red opening the scoring in the first half but the England star’s movement was too sharp for the Hornets as he netted shortly after the interval. The standing ovation Sterling received when he was substituted late on tells you what City fans think about the start he's made to Etihad life.
Boss Manuel Pellegrini said after the game that he believes his new signing will be able to surpass last season’s tally of 12 goals. “It’s what I hope, playing with creative players – Kun, Nasri, Silva, Yaya – I think he will improve a lot and score more goals,” said the Chilean. “He’s demonstrating he was not an expensive player, he’s a good player.”
2) City have a new Plan B
There were times in the first half when you wondered what City would do if Plan A – attempt to break down the opposition with skill, pace and trickery – didn’t work. They'll face many other sides this season who will come to the Etihad and try to play for a 0-0 draw, and there might be occasions when they need something a bit different.
Edin Dzeko used to provide that to some extent, but he has departed to Roma on loan, while Wilfried Bony was injured here. City’s bench looked surprisingly short of experienced players, with the youthful Kelechi Iheanacho, Patrick Roberts and Pablo Maffeo all named among the substitutes.
Pellegrini switched Sterling to a central role just off Sergio Aguero for the second half. Had it been unsuccessful it could have been construed as simply rearranging the deckchairs, but it did actually make the difference. Not only did the England man score soon after half-time, but David Silva moved to the right and was more influential there.
City completed 592 passes during the game, 109 more than Chelsea in their home defeat to Crystal Palace as Jose Mourinho’s men slipped eight points behind after only four matches.
3) Navas won’t keep De Bruyne waiting
This was almost certainly the last game before City complete the signing of Kevin De Bruyne from Wolfsburg, even if Pellegrini still didn’t want to talk about him after this match.
Jesus Navas would have wanted to send out a message to his manager and the new boy. The good news was that he did – but the bad was that it was hardly the one he'd have been hoping for. Not a goal, nor an assist, but substituted at half-time after just one successful cross in seven attempts in the first period.
Navas was already looking likely to be dropped for De Bruyne – and the likes of Aguero, Sterling, Silva and Yaya Toure probably won’t be left out any time soon. Now the Spanish winger looks pretty much certain to lose his place, and could slip behind Samir Nasri in the pecking order too. Nasri was more effective in the second half against the Hornets and also scored as a sub at Everton last weekend.
4) Fernandinho shone with simplicity
The Brazilian midfielder was named man of the match and is critical to how City want to play. His most eye-catching moment was understandably his goal, a thumping angled effort into the far corner from Silva’s clever reverse pass to put the game beyond Watford’s reach. But just as important was his economical use of possession.
While Toure marauds around midfield, Fernandinho takes a more measured approach alongside him, often playing the simple ball but importantly almost always keeping possession. A total of 75 of his 77 passes were short, and 73 of those 77 were successful. Not bad at all.
5) Watford’s gameplan could only work for so long
There’s no doubt that Quique Sanchez Flores has the Hornets well organised. They'd kept clean sheets in their previous two league matches against West Brom and Southampton, and made it very difficult for Manchester City to find a breakthrough.
The Hornets defended in numbers, with Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo dropping into virtual wide midfield roles in the first half. The gameplan was to allow Eliaquim Mangala and Vincent Kompany to have possession, and then press from there.
Unfortunately that gameplan was only going to work while the scoreline was 0-0. Once City scored Watford needed to change it, and it was 2-0 before they used their first sub and brought on Ikechi Anya, who had been left out of the starting line-up for this match.
Anya’s average position on the field compared to the rest of the team shows how Watford’s tactics changed from that moment on, but it was too little too late. “It’s difficult to play against City,” Flores concluded post-match. He’s not wrong.
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