An early goal by Raheem Sterling and two from Bernardo Silva helped Manchester City ease past Watford 3-1 and moved them to the top of the Premier League table.
Sterling opened the scoring in only the fourth minute with a close-range header. And Silva kept his incredible goalscoring record going with the second just after the half-hour mark.
He added another after the break to give his side a comfortable victory before Cucho Hernandez netted a consolation.
Watford made only change from the side that started the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea on Wednesday. Danny Rose was brought in for Adam Masina at left-back.
But Pep Guardiola rung the changes, with five new starters from the 2-1 midweek win over Aston Villa. Jack Grealish made his first City start since November 3, while Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden were all given the nod.
Nathan Ake, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Fernandinho, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus were left out. Guardiola knew his side could go top with victory and they made a predictably fast start at Vicarage Road.
Joao was forced to clear off the line from Aymeric Laporte’s header but it only delayed the inevitable by one minute. And it was an England combination that gave the visitors the lead on four minutes.
Foden’s cross was headed into the ground and past Daniel Bachmann by Sterling. Sterling now seems back in favour and he enjoyed another two chances in quick succession.
Bachmann proved his equal on both occasions before Jack Grealish shot straight at the Austrian when he should have scored. Watford looked clueless at the back at times and the second goal duly arrived on 31 minutes.
40. This guy! 💙
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 4, 2021
In-form Silva gathered the ball after Ilkay Gundogan’s shot had been saved before beating Bachmann from a tight angle. That was the Portuguese star’s fifth goal in his last eight top-flight outings.
The Hornets somehow managed to keep the score down to just 2-0 at half-time despite City’s total dominance with 80 per cent possession.
Ranieri takes action
Claudio Ranieri responded to the first-half debacle by making two changes at half-time. Juraj Kucka and Juan Hernandez replaced Tom Cleverley and Imran Louza.
And the hosts actually carved out a chance on 49 minutes. But top-scorer Emmanuel Dennis headed well over the bar from a corner.
The game reverted to type, with Guardiola’s men dominant and Sterling enjoying the freedom of Hertfordshire. He tested the Watford keeper on 52 minutes but failed to add to his first-half strike.
The home side played their past as the half wore on, with Moussa Sissoko shooting just wide from outside the box on 58 minutes. But two minutes later it could have been 3-0 as Foden’s effort was tipped onto the post by Bachmann.
The visiting fans did not have to wait too long for the third, however, as Silva doubled his tally for the day on 64 minutes. The 27-year-old eased past Rose before firing into the roof of the net.
Grealish looked superb throughout and saw his shot deflected onto the bar as Cty piled on the pressure and made a statement to their title rivals.
To make things worse for Watford, De Bruyne and Mahrez replaced Grealish and Gundogan for the final quarter.
But it was Watford who were next on the score sheet through Hernandez. The Colombian beat Ederson but not the post only to slot home the rebound for a consolation on 74 minutes.
The goal seem to re-energise the Hornets as Joshua King’s effort flew just wide five minutes later. But they could not add another as City claimed the points to move to the top of the standings.
The scoreline did not reflect the away side’ s dominance as they could easily have scored many more, with 26 shots in the 90 minutes.