Gabriel Jesus scored four goals while Rodri hit a screamer as Manchester City edged four points clear of Liverpool with a 5-1 victory over Watford.
The striker notched twice in each half while Hassane Kamara found the net after a rare attack for the away side. The north-west giants sent a message to the Reds that they can cope with the pressure ahead of Sunday’s Merseyside derby. City manager Pep Guardiola made six changes from the side that beat Brighton 3-0 on Wednesday.
Ruben Dias came off the bench for the second half against the Seagulls and was given the nod at the Etihad. Oleksandar Zinchenko started at left-back, with Fernandinho also back in the starting XI. Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish also returned for the Citizens.
Watford chief Roy Hodgson opted to make three changes from the side beaten by Brentford last weekend. Right-back Jeremy Ngakia, midfielder Tom Cleverley and striker Joshua King were back in the fold.
City began the match one point clear of Liverpool. Guardiola stated after the Albion triumph that his charges needed to win all their remaining games to stave off the Reds threat.
And they were quickly out of the traps, with Jesus giving the hosts the lead in just the fourth minute. Joao Cancelo’s cross found Zinchenko, whose return from the left picked out Jesus, leaving the Brazilian to steer home from close range.
Unsurprisingly, City dominated possession but had to be wary of Watford on the counter. Zinchenko was forced to work hard to prevent Emmanuel Dennis and Moussa Sissoko engineering a chance on goal.
But the visitors were forced to live off scraps and it was no surprise when City doubled their advantage on 23 minutes. Kevin de Bruyne’s superb cross found Jesus and the 25-year-old made no mistake with a powerful header.
City rocked as Watford hit back
Watford are struggling at the wrong end of the standings but they were soon back in the contest thanks to Kamara’s first goal for the club. Excellent link-up play between King and Dennis saw the ball land perfectly for the Ivorian.
His shot found the corner and stunned the home faithful. However, it was not long before the home side regained their two-goal advantage.
And City’s third came in strange circumstances. With De Bruyne on the floor after being fouled, Fernandinho urged Rodri to kick the ball out of play.
But the Spain international chose to shoot and gave Ben Foster no chance with a 20-yard thunderbolt. Sterling should have made it four as the half drew to a close but failed to hit the target.
Jesus proves his class
Watford knew they faced a tricky 45 minutes and just 14 seconds into the second period they conceded a penalty. Foster felled Jesus as the South American raced through on goal and there was no doubt about the spot kick.
Despite a lengthy VAR check, Jesus found the net from 12 yards to complete a first Premier League hat-trick.
But he was not done yet as the former Palmeiras man notched his fourth and City’s fifth on 53 minutes. Jesus played a neat one-two with De Bruyne before slamming the ball home from the centre of the box.
𝘞𝘦’𝘷𝘦 𝘨𝘰𝘵… 👏👏
— Manchester City (@ManCity) April 23, 2022
With the game won and Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Real Madrid in mind, Guardiola brought on Ilkay Gundogan for De Bruyne.
And he nearly scored just a few minutes later. Foster was forced to make a sprawling save as Gundogan’s attempted cross was deflected towards goal.
Riyad Mahrez replaced Rodri for the final 20 minutes as City pressed for a sixth goal. Guardiola’s side just toyed with the opposition, barely letting Watford have a kick in the final third of the game.
However, Joao Pedro should have headed Watford’s second goal with eight minutes left on the watch. The Brazilian somehow missed from close range after an excellent cross by Dennis.
It was a thoroughly professional and scintillating performance by City and one that will make those at Anfield sit up and take note.