Review and Player Ratings from stellar Gabriel Jesus display – Manchester City 5-1 Watford
Gabriel Jesus grabbed four goals and an assist in what was one of the best games any City forward has had during the Pep Guardiola era as Manchester City had a stress-free victory to keep their spot at the top of the table and cut down on Liverpool’s lead in goal difference. City’s 15th consecutive competitive win against Watford, the most by any English team against a specific opponent.
With Real Madrid just three days away, Guardiola played with another heavily rotated side. Ruben Dias made his first start since returning from injury, playing the full 90 minutes and Aymeric Laporte played alongside. Both Kyle Walker and John Stones were kept out due to lingering injuries, which meant Joao Cancelo returned to the right side and Oleksandr Zinchenko started his first league game since February. The double-pivot Rodri and Fernandinho returned for old times' sake, to free up space for a front four of Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.
Unlike Wednesday’s nail-biter against Brighton, City did not have to wait long to grab a lead. Jesus grabbed his first goal just four minutes in. The goal was set up by a lovely Cancelo cross that miraculously was unable to connect with the head of a City attacker, until Zinchenko corralled the ball near the byline and found Jesus moment later.
In the 11th minute Watford were gifted an opportunity to equalise. Emmanuel Dennis broke free with acres of space on a counterattack following an awful turnover by Cancelo. But before Dennis could capitalise, Zinchenko slid in from behind and got the ball away. On the replay, it appeared as though Zinchenko may have not got the ball, but VAR declined to intervene.
City extended their lead to two in the 23rd minute. De Bruyne found himself with a few yards of space on the right-wing and launched an inch-perfect cross that Jesus was easily able to head in after making a late run.
Watford cut the deficit in half in the 27th minute, Dennis launched a ball into a pocket of space in City’s defence that Hassane Kamara was able to get behind. Kamara fired a low shot across Ederson’s body and the Brazilian got a hand on it but it wasn’t strong enough.
However, City quickly responded. In the 34th minute De Bruyne broke free on a counter-attack but was unable to create a clear chance. Jesus won the ball back and found Rodri with a few yards of space just outside the box. Rodri took the ball off the half volley and rocketed a dipping shot that left Foster with no chance.
In the 36th minute, City had a perfect opportunity to make it four. Jesus played a cut back to Sterling, but the 27-year-old launched his chance over the bar. There were a few near chances to get a shot off to further extend their lead but City were unable to get a shot off to end the first half at 3-1.
City started the second half even quicker than the first. Jesus was taken down in the box by Ben Foster just 15 seconds into the half and was immediately awarded a penalty by Jon Moss. However, due to a communication error with VAR, the game was paused for nearly four minutes until Jesus was allowed to shoot.
Once the the Brazilian was allowed to take his penalty he was able to send Foster the wrong way and convert from the spot to make it four. It was his first hat trick since 2019.
With goal difference potentially being a title decider, the Premier League champions refused to back down and just four minutes after securing his hat trick, Jesus grabbed his fourth. It was a rare counter-attack goal for City that was setup by De Bruyne.
A few minutes after securing their fifth goal, Guardiola decided to preserve energy for Madrid and take De Bruyne off in favour of Ilkay Gundogan. Over the next ten minutes, Guardiola also wanted to protect Laporte and Rodri, replacing them with Nathan Ake and Riyad Mahrez.
In the 86 minute Grealish had a chance to make it six, but was unable to find the right angle and sent it right to the feet of Foster. There were another few near chances in the dying moment of the match, but no City player was able to capitalise and further extend the lead.
Man of the Match
It’s rumoured that Gabriel Jesus wants to prove himself as a striker. Today he showed a side of him that has been mostly absent for the last three seasons. Three clinical finishes, a well-taken penalty, an assist for Rodri, and a clear chance created that Sterling botched. Easily his best game in a City shirt and one of the performances of the season by any player in the Premier League this year.
Ederson - 6: Another low shot that he should have done much better to save.
Cancelo - 6: Occasionally wasteful in possession, nearly gave away a goal in the first half.
Dias - 8: Despite the fact it was his first start in nearly two months he didn’t look out of place at all.
Laporte - 8: Was virtually mistake-free and was rarely asked to do anything defensively.
Zinchenko - 7: He may only play a handful of games a season, but he’s always reliable and rarely puts a foot wrong. Recycled possession and set up the opening goal.
Fernandinho - 7: Solid from the captain both defensively and offensively.
Rodri - 8: His cross-field balls provided width all game and helped stretch the Watford back line. Scored another absolutely ridiculous goal.
Kevin De Bruyne - 9: I was nervous about De Bruyne at the start of the season, but he has been absolutely vital this month. Just consistently great performances. Two assists and created a slew of other chances.
Grealish - 6: Was shockingly absent at times, I’m a Grealish defender and am willing to wait until next season to judge, but there haven’t been a lot of positives yet.
Sterling - 6: Didn’t create much, skied a clear opportunity, and lost the ball before getting his shot off. Not a great performance.
Jesus - 10: Best game a City forward has had in quite some time. Even L'Equipe would be impressed.
Written by: @IVIeehan
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