Raheem Sterling and Manchester City found the perfect hangover cure as they shook off their Wembley frustrations to beat Watford 4-0 and equal a Premier League record.
A double from Sterling and second-half goals from Phil Foden and Aymeric Laporte made it a Vicarage Road rout as City threw darts at Watford’s goal, just as they did when winning 8-0 against the same opponents in September.
The outcome meant City matched a Premier League record for the most goals against a single opponent in the same season, equalling the 12 that Blackburn Rovers put past Nottingham Forest in 1995-96 and that Tottenham plundered against Wigan in the 2009-10 campaign.
And three days after losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-finals, it was a reminder that City’s season is far from over, with manager Pep Guardiola no doubt telling his players he expects performances from them leading into next month’s Champions League resumption.
When these teams last met, City sped 5-0 ahead inside the first 20 minutes, giving newly reappointed Hornets boss Quique Sanchez Flores, in his second spell at the club, plenty to chew over.
Flores was sacked in December, his successor Nigel Pearson was dismissed on Sunday, and it was former West Ham and Crystal Palace midfielder Hayden Mullins picking the team for this reunion with City as an interim head coach.
Watford, three points clear of the relegation zone going into the final week of the season, must have approached the City game with modest ambitions, given they also lost 6-0 to Guardiola’s team in last year’s FA Cup final.
Sterling made the breakthrough in the 31st minute, given far too much freedom in the Watford penalty area to smash high into the left corner beyond Ben Foster.
The England forward grabbed his second in the 40th minute, winning a penalty when Will Hughes lunged in and then tucking home the rebound after his spot-kick was skilfully parried by Foster.
Gabriel Jesus looked like stretching the lead inside 30 seconds of the second half but failed to beat Foster after running clear, before the goalkeeper, Watford’s most impressive performer by far, kept out a thumping drive from Sterling.
City had won their last 12 games against Watford across all competitions by a 46-6 aggregate, and Foster needed to save well on the hour to deny Kevin De Bruyne when the Belgian’s free-kick looked destined for the left corner.
But Foster continued to be left exposed and despite parrying well from Sterling when City came forward again, the ball bounced out for Foden to roll home.
Laporte headed in the fourth from De Bruyne’s free-kick, before City took their foot off the gas, sparing their hosts further embarrassment and damage in the goal-difference column, which could be key in Watford’s fight against relegation.
City thought they had a last-gasp fifth goal but Jesus was fractionally offside when he headed home, meaning there would be no outright Premier League record.
What does it mean? City shake off weekend woe, Watford worries worsen
It would be wildly presumptive to think City are suddenly back to their best, given they were facing opponents they routinely blow away. Guardiola’s men were in third gear and still outplayed Watford from start to finish. The real tests are still to come.
Watford were in a relegation battle before the game and nothing changes, other than the predictably worse goal difference than they possessed at kick-off. They may need something at Arsenal on Sunday, and must pray the Gunners have their minds on the cup final.
No stopping Sterling
Two-goal City hero Sterling is the man Watford hate to see on the team sheet. He came into this game having been involved in nine goals in his past five games against the Hornets (seven goals and two assists) and his first-half double – the second a little lucky – came as a surprise to nobody.
Guardiola let him sit out the last half-hour, saving him for the bigger battles to come.
Foster deserved better
Watford’s goalkeeper was simply outstanding, behind a predictably porous defence. The former England goalkeeper may have shipped 12 to City this season, but with a lesser goalkeeper this could easily have been a repeat of September’s eight-goal mauling.
Key Opta Facts
– City have scored 12 goals against Watford in the Premier League this season without conceding once – this goal difference of 12 over the two fixtures is the largest in the top-flight since 1947-48 when Arsenal also scored 12 without reply against Grimsby Town.
– City have scored 12 goals against Watford in the Premier League this season, a joint-record for most goals against an opponent in a single campaign in the competition alongside Blackburn vs Nottingham Forest in 1995-96 and Spurs vs Wigan in 2009-10.
– Since Watford returned to the Premier League in 2015-16, they have conceded 37 league goals against City, at least seven more than any side has conceded against another in this fixture in this time.
– De Bruyne registered his 19th league assist of the season, equalling Mesut Ozil in 2015-16 and going just one behind Thierry Henry’s league record of 20 in 2002-03.
– In Foden’s 16 starts in all competitions for Manchester City in 2019-20 he has been directly involved in 14 goals (six goals & eight assists).
– Foster has lost on each of his last 13 starts against Manchester City in the Premier League, the longest run of losses by a starting player against a specific side in Premier League history.
– Sterling’s penalty was the fifth City have missed in the Premier League this season; no side have ever missed more in a single Premier League campaign (Liverpool in 2011-12 and Spurs in 1994-95 also five each).
– Guardiola has made 143 changes to their starting XIs in the Premier League this season, the most by any manager in a single season in the competition’s history.
The Premier League season wraps up on Sunday when City host Norwich City, while Watford travel to FA Cup finalists Arsenal.