Manchester City will host Watford on Saturday the 23rd of April at the Etihad Stadium. The match will kick off at 15:00 BST – and hence will not be broadcasted live in the UK. Pep Guardiola's men must take all three points from a struggling Watford side to ensure they stay on top of the Premier League table. With Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool only narrowly behind the current champions, it is a must-win fixture for the Blues – much like every game remaining from now to the end of the season.
Guardiola announced in his press conference today that both John Stones and Nathan Ake have picked up niggles from the midweek game against Brighton and will both be assessed tomorrow regarding their availability. The Catalan also stated that Kyle Walker is 'getting better' after picking up a nasty-looking ankle injury against Atletico Madrid; the Englishman will also be assessed for tomorrow's game, although I suspect an appearance will be unlikely.
Ederson, Cancelo, Dias, Laporte, Zinchenko, Rodri, De Bruyne, Bernardo, Grealish, Jesus, Sterling
League position: 1st
Top scorer: De Bruyne and Mahrez (11)
Previous result: W 3-0 Brighton (H)
City head into the game on Saturday off the back of an important three points against Graham Potter's side in midweek. Brighton made it tough for City in the first half, and with a few chances missed, the Blues headed into the tunnel at halftime scoreless. However, perhaps due to the rotation we saw in the FA Cup the previous weekend, City looked much sharper and fresher in the second half compared to the Seagulls – and it did not take long for them to take advantage of this and break the deadlock. There was no surprise that Kevin De Bruyne was once again at the forefront of everything positive City did on Wednesday – and after a brave and direct run from the Belgian, the ball found itself with Riyad Mahrez, whose strike from within the penalty area made it 1-0 to the champions.
Just over 10 minutes later, City doubled their lead after a Phil Foden strike was deflected and found itself beating the Brighton keeper; this marked Foden's 8th Premier League goal of the season. Guardiola's side had found their rhythm at this point and a comfortable three points were on the horizon. This was further consolidated after Bernardo Silva made it three in the 82nd minute – a delightful one-touch pass from De Bruyne set up the Portuguese, who curled the ball perfectly into the bottom left corner. The three goals were enough to get three points and keep the side just ahead of Liverpool at the top of the table.
De Bruyne was once again named Man of the Match on Wednesday; the 30-year-old has stepped up time and time again for the league leaders this season and has not only provided pure individual brilliance but also brought the best out of the players around him. The Belgian has resembled the likes of previous City greats like Yaya Toure this season – in the sense of individually elevating his team and taking games by the scruff of the neck – especially during the crunch time of a title race.
De Bruyne in some ways has evolved his game this year. With the lack of an out and out striker, he has delegated some of his creative responsibilities to the players around him and took on a much more direct and goal-scoring role for Guardiola's side. With 6 games remaining he needs just 2 more goals to match his best goal tally in a Premier League season (13). It doesn't take an expert to know that keeping the Belgian fit is absolutely key if the champions want to extend their reign for another season.
However, the job is far from done and every game City play from now to the end of the season is tremendously important, including the upcoming game against the Hornets. Despite this, I do expect the Blues to have more than enough quality to attain all three points on Saturday. If they carry on the tempo from the second half of the Brighton game, there should not be too many issues. With a tough Real Madrid fixture to come, I'm sure Guardiola will be keen for City to come out of the blocks strong on Saturday and ideally allow some key players to be rested in the second half – although, this would merely be a luxury as we know the Premier League takes precedence over anything else for Pep – and rightfully so.
League position: 19th
Top scorer: Emmanuel Dennis (10)
Previous result: L 2-1 Brentford (H)
Watford will arrive at the Etihad on Saturday coming off the back of three losses on the bounce, with the most recent one being a narrow 2-1 loss against Brentford. Despite not picking up any points, Roy Hodgson's side created a decent amount of chances in the game and managed to get 17 shots off in the 90 minutes and narrowly had the majority of possession (51%). Their top goalscorer this season Emmanuel Dennis once again bagged for his side – a goal which seemed to have won them a crucial point until Brentford's Pontus Jansson scored the winner in the 95th minute – leaving the Watford players deflated and 7 points from safety.
The Hornets alongside Norwich look to be all but relegated unless Hodgson can inspire some sort of miraculous run from now to the end of the season. Watford have conceded 62 goals this season, giving them an average of 1.9 goals conceded per game; only Leeds and Norwich have a worse record. Comparing this with City's 75 goals this season and the fact they are averaging 2.3 goals per match indicates that this fixture is only heading in one direction, as a City win feels inevitable. Despite this, football is not determined by statistics and the pressure of a title race combined with Watford's inspiration to survive leaves room for anything to happen this Saturday.
Dennis has been the focal point of Watford this season and has been at the centre of any type of problems they cause going forward. The Nigerian leads the tally for most goals (10) and the most assists (5) within the Watford squad, as well as taking the most shots than any other player. His pace and eye for goal could create problems for City's defence, and will be an individual Guardiola's side will be looking to restrict.
Watford manager Hodgson made it clear in his press conference earlier today that his side has no intention to fight fire with fire against the champions but instead claimed his side 'will make life as difficult for them as we possibly can'. Time and time again, teams come to the Etihad and play this style of football, sitting back deep trying to limit balls in the final third and hitting on the counter when they can.
The Blues are far from unfamiliar when it comes to this style of play and Guardiola will be turning to the creative likes of De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Joao Cancelo, Bernardo etc. in an attempt to unlock Watford's defence. City will have to remain patient if an early goal doesn't come – I expect nearly every game from now to the end of the Premier League season to follow this trend and will be something City will have to overcome.
Head to Head
The first-ever fixture between City and Watford took place at Maine Road in 1982 – it was a first division match-up, which saw the Blues win 1-0 after a goal from Dennis Tueart.
Since then City have gone on to have a very successful record against the Hornets, especially in recent times. In fact, City have won the last 14 outings between the two clubs and are undefeated in the previous 19. You have to trail back to 1989 to find Watford's last victory.
In the last 5 fixtures, City have scored a staggering 24 goals against Watford and only conceded two – a record that involves the colossal 8-0 win in 2019, which remains to be City's biggest ever victory in the Premier League. City supporters will be hoping this incredible record continues on Saturday and another three points are added to the tally.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistants: Adrian Holmes & Simon Beck
Fourth Official: Jonathan Moss
VAR: Lee Mason
Assistant VAR: Darren Cann
Written by: @BrookbanksHenry
Follow our Twitter account for reliable, live updates on all the latest news and everything Manchester City in real time.