GOAL! Watford 0-4 Manchester City (Laporte 66)
De Bruyne swings a free kick into the Watford box from the right. Laporte makes a run from an onside position and, unchallenged at the far post, heads down and into the right-hand side of the net. Easy as that.
64 min: Sterling’s not getting his hat-trick goal at all. He’s one of two City players replaced, Walker being the other. On come Mahrez – another player who loves to fill his boots against Watford – and Zinchenko.
GOAL! Watford 0-3 Manchester City (Foden 63)
De Bruyne slides a pass down the inside right. Sterling is sent clear on goal. He draws Foster, who makes another good block … but while Sterling’s not getting his hat-trick goal yet, the ball pings left to Foden, who taps home from six yards into an unguarded net.
61 min: De Bruyne gets up and takes it himself, arcing a shot towards the top left. Foster leans back and tips over, another fine save. He’s kept the score down this evening … and he plucks the corner from the air to boot.
60 min: A better couple of minutes for Watford, who draw the sting from the game with a few passes across the back. But then suddenly De Bruyne takes control and drives down the middle, before being clipped from behind by Cleverley. A free kick 25 yards out, just to the right of centre.
58 min: Foster takes the best part of 20 seconds to launch a drop kick upfield. It’s already come to this for Watford, who have been chasing shadows since the get-go.
56 min: Sarr goes racing clear down the right, haring after a long Mariappa pass. But the flag goes up for offside. Absolutely nothing is coming off for Watford, though at least the scoreboard isn’t spinning wildly out of control. Small mercies.
55 min: Rodri floats a ball down the inside-right channel. Sterling takes a touch inside, but is halted by Kiko. Sterling makes another claim for hand-ball, but the referee’s even less interested this time.
52 min: Cancelo jigs down the left touchline, leaving three opponents in his wake. He cuts into the box, and there are options infield, but decides to go for the spectacular. His attempt to curl past Foster and score in the top-right corner, from a tight angle, is high, wide and wild.
51 min: On the touchline, Hayden Mullins looks extremely concerned, as well he might. City are utterly dominant and pressing hard for a third. And here’s a damning stat flashed up by Sky Sports. Rodri has made 65 passes so far. That’s ten more than Watford.
49 min: They’ve just shown replays of the Bernardo shot and resulting hand ball. It’s Mariappa, who had his hands in an unnatural position … he’s almost making a diving save as he goes to ground, moving his arms towards the ball … but VAR is in a generous mood. City aren’t making a huge thing of it, to be fair.
47 min: City aren’t messing about here. Sterling looks to whistle one into the top right, but Foster sticks out a strong hand.
46 min: City should be three up. An incredibly poor Pereyra backpass is intercepted by Jesus, who skitters clear. He shoots straight at Foster when he really should score. Bernardo has a whack from the rebound, and claims his shot is blocked by a Watford hand, but the ref isn’t interested.
Watford get the second half underway. No changes at the break.
HALF TIME: Watford 0-2 Manchester City
It’ll take something special to stop City taking all three points from here. Watford’s attention may turn to their goal difference: should it take a second-half hit, a win for Aston Villa against Arsenal later on would push them into the relegation zone.
45 min +2: A Watford free kick out on the left. Hughes swings it into the mixer. Dawson gets ahead of Laporte and tries to bundle home. The ball clanks off him and into the arms of Ederson. That would have made a huge difference going into the half-time break. It would also have been the scruffiest goal of the season. Watford would happily take it.
45 min: Rodri slips a ball down the inside-left channel for Bernardo, who crosses towards De Bruyne at the near post. De Bruyne tries to flick into the top left, but he’s got no time for any backlift and can only prod wide.
43 min: That’s seven goals for Sterling in his last three starts against Watford … and counting. We’re moving out of the realms of Decent Scoring Run and into Inexplicable Vendetta.
GOAL! Watford 0-2 Manchester City (Sterling 40)
Sterling aims for the top left. Foster guesses correctly and as he dives, sticks a hand into the air, making a quite sensational stop. But when your luck’s out, it’s out. Sterling’s the first to react, reaching the rebound first and calmly slotting into the bottom right. Such a shame for Foster, who had made a quite outstanding penalty save, but the scoreline doesn’t flatter City at all.
Penalty for Manchester City
39 min: Foden dispossess Cleverley in the middle of the park and drives forward. He shifts the ball right to Sterling, who sashays into the area. As he glides right to left, Hughes comes in and clips him to the floor. A no-brainer of a decision.
38 min: Dawson launches long for Sarr down the right. But Sarr isn’t there. Watford are finding it hellishly difficult to string anything together up front.
36 min: Foden dribbles Gazza-style into the Watford box from the left. He’s barged clumsily by Cleverley, but decides to stay on his feet and wins a corner instead. He was within his rights to go down, so hats off to him for honesty. Nothing comes of the corner, though.
35 min: Doucoure bustles towards the City box, but never looks in total control. City swarm him and flood upfield. Foden thinks about having a whack from distance but decides against it, and the attack eventually peters out.
33 min: De Bruyne nearly takes possession of a loose ball in the centre circle. Had he managed to nick it, he’d have been away, clear on goal. But fortunately for Watford, he doesn’t quite make it.
GOAL! Watford 0-1 Manchester City (Sterling 31)
Walker curls in from the right. His ball threads between two Watford men and drops at the feet of Sterling, in the box, just inside the area. Sterling takes a touch and lashes an unstoppable riser into the top left. Foster had no chance whatsoever. The sweetest of screamers!
29 min: De Bruyne’s dead-ball delivery has been strangely off so far, and this one’s no exception. He’ll surely find his range soon.
28 min: Sterling has a look down the right this time, and nearly zips past Kiko. The full back, who had a hell of a time at West Ham last Friday, manages to stick by him and concedes a corner. The ball’s worked back to Foden, who has a crack. Blocked. Then Sterling goes back to his beat on the left, and is unceremoniously stopped by Doucoure. Free kick.
27 min: Some welcome respite for Watford as Deeney and Pereyra graft down the left, gaining some rare territory in the City half. Cleverley tries to send a spectacular curler into the top right, but it’s always flying high and wide. But it’s an effort on goal, if not on target. Small acorns, and all that.
26 min: Sterling nutmegs Mariappa and forces Hughes into the concession of yet another corner. De Bruyne’s long delivery from the left is headed out weakly to the right of goal by Rodri.
24 min: We go again, everyone refreshed.
22 min: Cancelo and Foden have shots blocked amid a penalty-box ruckus. De Bruyne delivers another non-event of a corner. And that’s drinks!
21 min: But then it was still 0-0 at this point in last season’s FA Cup final, and look what ended up happening there.
19 min: Watford were five down by this point at the Etihad last September. David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Nicolas Otamendi, since you ask. Final score: 8-0. So this is a most welcome positive trend.
17 min: City have enjoyed 83 percent possession so far. This is relentless. Sterling and De Bruyne combine down the left, the latter winning a corner off Hughes. Nothing comes of the set piece, but a City opener is beginning to feel nothing more than a matter of time.
15 min: Foden drives at great speed down the right. He swans into the box and looks for Jesus at the near post, but Dawson is on hand to deflect out for a corner. De Bruyne’s corner is uncharacteristically dismal and easily cleared by the first man.
13 min: City continue to press and pass, pass and press. Watford are just about holding their shape. This could be a long 90 minutes for the relegation-haunted hosts.
11 min: What a save by Foster! Rodri takes a whack from distance, looking for the top left. But the ball balloons off the back of Jesus and moves right. It’s looping into the corner, but Foster extends himself to tip over. Nothing comes of the corner.
10 min: A couple of City mistakes. First Ederson’s poor kick gifts Watford a throw deep on the right. Mariappa flings it into the mixer, and Cancelo duffs his clearance. The ball drops to Hughes, just inside the box, but his first-time slapshot is pulled miles wide right.
9 min: City continue to mesmerise Watford with their metronomic passing. Suddenly Bernardo bursts down the left and whips infield, but not with any great accuracy. The first sign of the visitors shifting up a gear or two.
8 min: More pretty City triangles. No great drama unfolding yet.
6 min: Sarr is Watford’s biggest hope today, you’d have thought, having ripped Liverpool to shreds in that famous 3-0 win before lockdown. He tears down the right after a long Doucoure pass, and very nearly gets the better of Cancelo, but the City defender digs deep to stick on the pacy winger’s shoulder and runs him out of play. Goal kick.
4 min: Kabasele blooters long, in the hope of releasing Pereyra down the left, but it’s an easy mop-up job for Walker. A kick’s a kick, though, as City continue to dominate. Watford can take heart from the fact that Arsenal were teased like this for the first ten minutes of the FA Cup semi-final last weekend, and look how that turned out.
2 min: It’s a lovely summer afternoon. How lovely it’ll continue to be for Watford is a moot point, if the very early signs are anything to go by. City don’t appear in the mood to give the ball away at all. Watford have barely had a kick, Dawson excepted, the defender hacking Cancelo’s cross away after the full-back one-twoed with Sterling.
Here we go, then! City get the ball rolling … but only after the players take a knee. Black lives matter.
The teams are out! Watford in yellow and black halves, City in their new sky-blue mosaic. We’ll be off in a few minutes. Nervous, Watford fans? Here’s Mac Millings: “‘Email Scott with your thoughts’, it says. My thoughts? Here are my thoughts. The inside of my stomach’s rippling like the back of a Vicarage Road net with City-based PTSD. Thoughts? My club sacked their manager with two games to go in a relegation dogfight. My thoughts? Last two games: MCFC 14, WFC 0. My thoughts? It’s fine, I’m fine, everything’s fine.”
Pep’s turn. “We will try to play good. We have to do our job. We need to be ourselves, and try to do our game. It doesn’t matter who is going to play now, because we have two weeks until we play Real Madrid, so training will be fundamental.”
Hayden Mullins talks to Sky. “The players are ready, confident and know their jobs. We’re hoping they’ll give a good account of themselves. It’s been a couple of days when all the eyes have been on us, but all the players have prepared really well. I expect a professional, hard-working, confident performance, and one in which we believe in what we are doing. Hopefully we can have a positive result. We respect the opposition, but we are looking for a balanced performance, a defensive one but hopefully we can get up the pitch and attack ourselves.”
Hayden Mullins, Watford’s interim head coach in the wake of Nigel Pearson’s surprise departure, makes two changes to the XI thumped at West Ham. Adrian Mariappa and Roberto Pereyra return, while Adam Masina and Danny Welbeck drop to the bench.
Pep Guardiola swaps four players out of the team that lost the FA Cup semi-final to Arsenal. Benjamin Mendy, Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez and David Silva drop to the bench, with Joao Cancelo, Rodri, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva taking their places.
Watford: Foster, Mariappa, Kabasele, Dawson, Femenia, Cleverley, Doucoure, Hughes, Sarr, Deeney, Pereyra.
Subs: Gomes, Welbeck, Masina, Chalobah, Cathcart, Joao Pedro, Gray, Quina, Pussetto.
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Eric Garcia, Laporte, Joao Cancelo, De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Foden, Gabriel Jesus, Sterling.
Subs: Stones, Gundogan, Zinchenko, Silva, Mendy, Fernandinho, Mahrez, Otamendi, Carson.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).
The battle to avoid the drop could be over in five hours or so. Should now-managerless Watford earn a point against Manchester City this teatime, Bournemouth’s relegation will be confirmed. Aston Villa would then need to secure at least a draw against Arsenal later this evening, or they’ll be gone as well. If Watford win, Villa will need to beat the Gunners to retain any slim hope of staying alive.
But Bournemouth and Villa shouldn’t fret too much just yet. Manchester City have won their last 12 matches against Watford, rattling up an aggregate score of 46 goals to six. They beat the Hornets 8-0 back in September, and who could forget the 6-0 debacle that was last season’s FA Cup final? Watford haven’t beaten City in 17 games, a miserable run that stretches all the way back to March 1989, when Iwan Roberts pinged a header past a wandering Andy Dibble at Vicarage Road.
City’s attack that day was comprised of Nigel Gleghorn, Paul Moulden and Wayne Biggins. Compare and contrast to Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling; the former has scored in seven of his last nine matches against the Hornets, while the latter has five in his last two meetings. Different times, huh.
Then again, Watford gave Liverpool an absolute spanking back in March, so anything’s possible. It’s on!
Kick off: 6pm BST.