Aguero's touch of class can give City crucial extra edge
Watford 1-2 Manchester City
Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores was crestfallen but he cannot have been surprised.
For the second time in five days his team had lost 2-1, conceding a late winner to a bigger club who they had outplayed.
Last Monday, it was Tottenham Hotspur; on Saturday, Manchester City. And this time the winning goal was scored by someone the Watford manager knows well.
Sanchez Flores managed Sergio Aguero at Atletico Madrid, pairing the 21-year-old up front with Diego Forlan, winning the 2010 Europa League in the process.
He still rates Aguero as the best player he has ever managed, along with David Silva, whom he coached at Valencia.
"I managed a lot of good players," reflected the Watford boss. "But Silva and Aguero were a little bit different.
"Aguero was at a high level, then he was injured for a short period," Sanchez Flores added.
"It was enough to have some doubts, maybe. When you are injured, you lose your rhythm.
"But these kind of players have good physique, they recuperate their shape. Aguero is a completely different player. He is one of the best players in the world."
Aguero is not fully fit, still recovering from a series of injuries which have ruined his season. At Arsenal and Leicester City recently, he was hauled off after an hour for Wilfried Bony.
At Vicarage Road, the Argentinian was struggling to run in behind, missing that burst of pace that takes him away from defenders.
A blunted Aguero means a blunted City - and they were outplayed by Watford for the first 80 minutes, 1-0 down before Yaya Touré's instinctive volley drew them level.
Then, with six minutes left, Aguero, even on one leg, summoned enough power with his header to win the game for City.
That is what the Argentinian can do, even when operating nowhere near his best. If he can stay fit for the rest of the season, then City will surely go close to winning the title.
Two of the original characters in this £1 billion comicbook story had written what may yet turn out to be a defining chapter in this season's Premier League.
If, that is, City can turn this unexpected success into something better than they produced here.
The truth is that one of these teams was assembled for over £300m and built for world domination; the other cost about £15m and was built for survival. Yet, for most of this game you would have struggled to tell them apart.
City struggled badly with Watford's compactness. Only around 30 yards separated Watford's front and back lines. They allowed City all the possession they wanted around the edge of their area, as long as there were men in position and pressure on the ball.
When they got the ball, they spread it quickly to the channels, and here City's defensive frailties were once more on display.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini spoke afterwards with the relief of a man whose team had just been sprung out of jail.
They are now just three points behind leaders Arsenal, rather than six. It felt like a turning point in their season - and in Aguero's.
Pellegrini was happy to embrace it as one. "He has improved a lot in his whole performance, if you compare with his last game [at Leicester]," he said.
"We know Kun needs three or four games to return to his top performance. For him, the goal was important. Hopefully, he can go on. He is very important to our team, more than just one player."
Of course, City cannot hope to be bailed out by their big names in the last 10 minutes of every away game.
"We have to be more careful," warned full-back Bacary Sagna. "Because that won't happen every time. You have to take the game and create more chances before you concede."
As City returned to Manchester to prepare for the first leg of their League Cup semi-final against Everton, Watford were reminding themselves how far they have come.
Even after two painful defeats they were still in ninth place, more than halfway to safety and looking upwards.
"We have plenty of reasons to be positive," Sanchez Flores said afterwards. "We have 29 points, we are in the top half of the league, we are competitive and always have the opportunity to win, including against the big teams."
Independent News Service