For the first half-hour on Saturday Manchester City were mesmeric, their passing and movement smoother than a Dean Martin ballad.
Most of the home crowd must have been watching through their fingers as time and again, the City players eased their way through an apparently traumatised defence, with poor Danny Rose in particular made to look as though he was wearing lead-lined boots.
“I don’t think there is another footballing team like City in the world,” said Daniel Bachmann, the Watford goalkeeper, who had the busiest afternoon of his career at Vicarage Road, obliged to make half a dozen spectacular saves.
“Their movement on and off the ball is incredible. Man City only exist once, the way they play football and how they are. They’re certainly the toughest to play against.”
And given Watford have recently lost to Liverpool and Chelsea, that is an observation that carries weight when assessing the likely conclusion of this three-horse title race.
Enjoying the delights of their team in full throttle, the visiting fans spent much of the afternoon belting out their chant eulogising the 6-1 victory at Old Trafford in 2011. It ends with a prescient line: “It should have been 10.” Frankly, the way they started against Watford it could have been 15. And yet, despite creating more chances than many a team manage in a season, the punishment was restricted to three goals.
Watford were even allowed a fine goal of their own from substitute Cucho Hernandez, to give the scoreline a misleading respectability.
Not for the first time this season, it was hard to watch City in full flow and not wonder how bloated their goals-for column might have looked had they managed to sign Harry Kane in the summer.
Pep Guardiola had selected a front three of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling. The first thought reading the team sheet was: would we ever see the three of them start in harness for England? How exciting would that be for England supporters?
And from the moment the game got under way we were given constant evidence of their extraordinary creativity. Foden was simply magnificent, precise and cogent in all his work on the ball, he exhibited a terrier-like determination when out of possession, hunting down Watford players as if they had personally slighted him. Sterling, too, was superb, full of jinking tricks, ghosting in to head home Foden’s inch-perfect cross for the first goal.
The issue in the threesome was Grealish. Not so much how he played – as ever, he was full of ambition and desire – as where he played. Guardiola had selected him as a false nine, playing slightly behind the other two in the middle. His role, presumably, was to finish the chances they created.
Which is where the issue came from. Time and again he found himself in a position to score. And time and again he failed to do so. Either Bachmann intervened, or he struck the woodwork.
Ultimately, he got a lesson in how to put the ball in the net from his brilliant teammate Bernardo Silva, whose two goals were an exemplar of ruthless delivery.
It leads to an intriguing question about where best to harness Grealish’s considerable skills for both City and England. Neither play with a No 10, so not there, where he has thrived in the past. Out left he is at his most comfortably potent.
But, frankly, a combination of Neymar and Ryan Giggs might struggle to shift Foden from that position on the kind of form he is displaying there. And Grealish is certainly, as was demonstrated at Vicarage Road, not at his best as the false nine.
For those who criticise Gareth Southgate’s team selection, here was pointed evidence as to why he invariably builds his England sides around Kane.
For all the quality of the City front three as they demolished Watford, it is probable the starting trio for England in the World Cup will be Foden, Kane and Sterling. It remains Southgate’s most potent possibility.
And to think, it could have been the one Guardiola used every week.
Telegraph Media Group Limited