MANCHESTER, England — Raheem Sterling scored a hat-trick as Manchester City beat Watford 3-1 to move four points clear at the top of the Premier League. After a goal-less first half, Sterling opened the scoring in controversial circumstances with the referee’s assistant originally flagging him offside. He quickly added two more before Gerard Deulofeu pulled a goal back seconds after coming on as a substitute.
City are hitting top form at just the right time, with the Watford victory their ninth in succession and 17th in 18 matches in all competitions. This win moves them four points clear of Liverpool, ramping up the pressure on them ahead of their clash with Burnley on Sunday.
Jurgen Klopp will now know that City won’t make many errors before the end of the season and that they may have to be perfect until the end of the season if they are to claim their first Premier League title.
It was the second successive week in which an opponent has shown little interest in attacking. At Bournemouth, the Cherries failed to have a single shot on or off target throughout the game, and it took until the 65th minute for Watford to create an opening — Deulofeu scoring with his first touch.
With 10 men behind the ball for the majority of the game, there is little attacking space and City have to grind out their opportunities.
Manager rating out of 10
7 — After a week’s break, Pep Guardiola kept faith with the side that completed the job at Bournemouth with Riyad Mahrez earning his place in the starting lineup. They laboured to create too many chances in the first half but that all changed a minute into the second half. While the first was controversial, each of Sterling’s goals were classic moves from the training pitch with Guardiola refusing to panic and make big changes to his system.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Ederson, 6 — Slight off-day for the Brazilian. His radar was unusually off with his long-range passing and he was beaten by the first shot on target.
DF Kyle Walker, 6 — Success was lively on the break and Watford’s get-out ball. The England defender struggled at times with his threat and wasn’t helped by an early booking.
DF Vincent Kompany, 6 — Had acres of space behind him to defend but wasn’t troubled until Deeney came on and immediately set up Deulofeu’s goal.
DF Nicolas Otamendi, 7 — Brought the ball forward well and was quick to try to set City on another attack.
DF Oleksandr Zinchenko, 7 — Fizzed in a couple of dangerous crosses and didn’t have any problems defensively.
MF Ilkay Gundogan, 7 — Tried to move the ball quickly to stretch the visitors, which wasn’t always easy when they had so many players back defending.
MF Bernardo Silva, 7 — Displayed his trademark workrate and linked up well with Mahrez as City occasionally found space down the right-hand side.
MF David Silva, 7 — The playmaker can often be the difference in tight spaces but found it hard until City made the breakthrough.
FW Riyad Mahrez, 7 — His confidence is still not at the very top but caused Watford problems and claimed an assist for City’s second.
FW Sergio Aguero, 6 — The predator waited patiently for his chance but unusually, when it came he headed just wide. Could have been a costly miss.
FW Raheem Sterling, 9 — Fortunate to open the scoring, was in the right place for his second and completed his hat-trick with a moment of delightful individual skill.
FW Leroy Sane, 6 — Worked hard as he tries to earn his starting place back.
FW Gabriel Jesus, N/R — Some good movement and close to extending City’s margin.
MF Phil Foden, N/R — Very late change.