Wednesday 21 August 2019

Zabaleta steadies nerves but City grateful for late let-off

Manchester City 2 Watford 0

Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

James Ducker

This was most certainly not a game to satisfy the purist sensibilities of Pep Guardiola, but given that it was approaching three months since his Manchester City side had last won at home in the Premier League, this was one occasion when the manager may accept that three points were more important than the performance.

City were far from their best and, in truth, they had not needed to be for long periods such was Watford's indifference. By the end, though, Guardiola was thankful Odion Ighalo's woes in front of goal are showing no sign of abating as the Watford striker fluffed a glorious chance to cancel out Pablo Zabaleta's first-half strike nine minutes from time before David Silva added a second goal for City.

After the 4-1 capitulation away to Leicester City at the weekend that had thrust the spotlight on Guardiola, victory not only provided some welcome relief but moved City to within a point of Arsenal in the table.

Pinpoint

Yet had Ighalo, who has scored just once in the league this term, not skied a volley over from eight yards out from Nordin Amrabat's cross, this could have been another frustrating night for Guardiola

Guardiola has been accused of tinkering far too much but he could hardly have kept faith with the side that imploded against Leicester. Changes were necessary and, over the course of a low-key opening period, City looked more comfortable operating with a back four rather than a three-man defence.

Watford's Jose Holebas (left) and Manchester City's Jesus Navas battle for the ball. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Watford's Jose Holebas (left) and Manchester City's Jesus Navas battle for the ball. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

John Stones was dropped to the bench, one of five changes on the night - Aleksandar Kolarov, hopeless against Leicester, managed to keep his place - but Watford seldom troubled City's defence in those first 45 minutes.

City were in front after half an hour when Nolito fed the ball into Kevin de Bruyne, who beat his man in the penalty area before floating a left-footed cross to the back. Adlene Guedioura was guilty of ball watching, unaware of Zabaleta, who steered a volley low into the corner of the net.

City were in control without ever having to work particularly hard to achieve it, although Watford belatedly came to life and forced a save from Claudio Bravo.

Then came that let off from Ighalo before Silva, exchanging a one-two with Sterling to finish coolly after a breakaway kick-started by Yaya Toure, eased frayed nerves.

Manchester City's David Silva celebrates scoring their second goal with team mates. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters
Manchester City's David Silva celebrates scoring their second goal with team mates. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

There was a downside for City: Guardiola expects to be without Ilkay Gundogan for "a long time" after the midfielder suffered suspected knee ligament damage. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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