Sunday 22 October 2017

Aguero breathes new life into City's title challenge

Watford 1-2 Manchester City

Sergio Aguero (right) celebrates with Jesus Navas after the Argentinian scored the goal that gave Manchester City all three points against Watford Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Sergio Aguero (right) celebrates with Jesus Navas after the Argentinian scored the goal that gave Manchester City all three points against Watford Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Watford's Allan-Romeo Nyom and Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Vicarage Road, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday January 2, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Watford. Photo credit should read: John Walton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
Football Soccer - Watford v Manchester City - Barclays Premier League - Vicarage Road - 2/1/16 Watford's Odion Ighalo in action with Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi Reuters / Stefan Wermuth Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling and Watford's Jose Holebas battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Vicarage Road, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday January 2, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Watford. Photo credit should read: John Walton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.

Jacob Steinberg

While Sergio Aguero has been known to leave it even later before sparing Manchester City's blushes in the past, he could hardly have picked a better time to offer a reminder of the devastating qualities that make him the most potent striker in the Premier League when he is fit and firing.

Aguero's wonderful late header capped a magnificent City fightback against Watford, earning Manuel Pellegrini's side their first away win in almost four months and keeping them within touching distance of Arsenal.Trailing to Aleksandar Kolarov's own goal, it appeared that City's miserable away form was going to continue. Watford rarely gave them a moment's peace and Quique Sanchez Flores's side were superior for long stretches. However, Yaya Toure hauled City level in the 82nd minute and Aguero scored the winner two minutes later, having spent most of the occasion looking out of sorts.

One of the most impressive features of Watford's season has been their utter refusal to lay out the welcome mat for any visitors to Vicarage Road, as Liverpool discovered to their cost two weeks ago, and there was a distinct possibility that City would be made to suffer on their travels again. City, five points off the top before kick-off after Arsenal's late win over Newcastle United earlier in the day, had little margin for error and on a pitch that had the potential to punish any pieces of slack control, they knew that their attitude had to be spot on.

However, the signs were ominous for City early on, with Watford determined to demonstrate that they were not cowed. Passing the ball around swiftly and sharply in midfield and using the movement, brawn and skill of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo to great effect in attack, the hosts went toe to toe with City and created four clear opportunities in a frenetic opening 15 minutes, threatening to overwhelm Pellegrini's players with their intensity.

Almen Abdi whistled a drive inches over from 20 yards with barely a minute gone and Ighalo had the clearest opportunity, spinning Nicolas Otamendi with baffling ease, only for Joe Hart to smother his shot. Deeney had a penalty claim waved away by Martin Atkinson, who correctly saw nothing wrong with Kolarov's last-ditch challenge, and the extent to which City missed the assurance of the injured Vincent Kompany in central defence was painfully obvious.

Ighalo clearly had the beating of Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala, impudently tormenting the latter on one occasion, while Toure, playing in a midfield two alongside Fernandinho, had his ego pricked by a couple of dainty touches from Jose Manuel Jurado.

The danger for Watford was that while their willingness to pile men forward made for a pleasing spectacle, there were also times when City had too much space in the final third. City's attacking quartet looked fearsome on paper and Heurelho Gomes had to be alert to push away a bouncing shot from Kevin De Bruyne, before denying Fernandinho after excellent play from David Silva. City slowly came into the game as the first half wore on and some of Watford's early zip had disappeared by the time Allan Nyom was booked for a risible attempt to win a penalty in the 38th minute.

That shabby moment aside, Nyom embraced the challenge of marking Raheem Sterling with such relish that the City winger was replaced by Jesus Navas after 60 ineffective minutes.

Even when Aguero isolated Craig Cathcart on the edge of the Watford area, he was unable to slip past the centre-back and work the ball on to his right foot, instead slashing a shot well wide with his weaker left. City are hugely diminished as an attacking force when Aguero is reduced to operating on the fringes and it was Watford who made the stronger start to the second half, Ben Watson forcing Hart to tip wide at his near post.

Fernandinho then sent a free header over the bar and the price of that miss was doubled for City when Watford deservedly took the lead minutes later.

Ighalo hassled Mangala into conceding a corner on the left and when Watson's cross towards the near-post caused chaos in the City defence, the ball flicked off Kolarov's head and past Hart.

Watford had a glorious chance to wrap up the points when Etienne Capoue burst through several challenges, only to blast over when he was clean through, and the game swung City's way in a blur. Kolarov earned his redemption by sending in the corner that Toure crashed past Gomes on the volley at the near post before Aguero sent the travelling fans into ecstasy with a beautiful header from Bacary Sagna's cross.

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