Jason Donovan and China Crisis are performing in Hertfordshire soon but the only nod to 1980s nostalgia that Marco Silva was interested in making here was to return Watford to the top of the English football chart for the first time since 1982.
Almost 35 years ago to the day Luther Blissett scored twice in a win over West Brom to send the Graham Taylor’s side to the summit of the old First Division, the only time in Watford’s history that they have reached that peak. Elton John, the club’s owner back then and now its honorary life president, was among the spectators at Vicarage Road to see whether they could hit the highest note again. But the home crowd ended up singing sad songs as Manchester City crushed the hosts and helped themselves to top spot instead. It is going to take an exceptional team to bring them down.
City settled the issue before half-time thanks to a three-goal salvo in 10 minutes. Sergio Agüero scored two of them and created the other for Gabriel Jesus. Nicolás Otamendi added a fourth in the second half with a close-range header. Then Agüero rounded off his hat-trick, which is why he was happy to let Raheem Sterling take a penalty in the last minute. Sterling expressed his gratitude by finishing with the ruthlessness he sometimes lacks.
Watford had come into the game on the back of three successive clean sheets but extending that sequence to four was always going to be a tall order against one of the most awesome attacking forces in Europe, especially with the home team’s first-choice centre-backs still missing because of injuries to Sebastian Prödl and Younès Kaboul.
Pep Guardiola made just one alteration to the City lineup that had started the mid-week dismantling of the Dutch champions, with Sterling replacing Bernardo Silva. It took him just 20 seconds to make an impact, as he skittered down the right and delivered a low cross to David Silva. Adrian Mariappa blocked the Spaniard’s close-range shot. But the storm was never going to abate.
Silva and Kevin De Bruyne orchestrated City’s relentless assaults. Benjamin Mendy thrashed a 20-yard shot just over the bar before, in the 10th minute, Silva swept a diagonal pass over to De Bruyne, who cushioned the ball into the path of Sterling. The England winger mis-hit from 10 yards. Such finishing was the only stain on an otherwise sparkling display by Sterling, and a small mercy for Watford.
De Bruyne and Agüero went close with shots from outside the area as Watford were corralled deep into their own half. But in the 24th minute the hosts almost took a surprise lead from their first real venture forward, Richarlison meeting a free-kick by José Holebas and heading only a yard wide.
Agüero soon showed Richarlison how it should be done. After Tom Cleverley was penalised near half-way for a foul on John Stones, much to the annoyance of the home crowd, De Bruyne flighted in the free-kick and Agüero headed past Heurelho Gomes.
By now the raining was hurtling down at Vicarage Road, and the sky soon fell in on Watford. Agüero scored his second four minutes later, tapping into the net from four yards after excellent work on the left by Jesus and a feeble attempt by Gomes to cut out David Silva’s cross.
Agüero then became the supplier, running at Watford’s frazzled defence before slipping a pass through to Jesus, who fired into the bottom corner from 10 yards.
Watford were inferior, no doubt about that, but never submissive. They rebelled quit strongly at the start of the second half and even had Ederson in the City goal worried for a moment, André Carrillo cracking a fine volley a couple of yards wide from the right-hand corner of the box.
Then Agüero resumed his quest for a hat-trick, twice shooting wide after being fed by Mendy. On the hour the Argentine was thwarted by Gomes, who batted a crisp shot over the bar.
The corner that resulted from that save led to City’s fourth goal, Otamendi heading home a cross by David Silva.
Nine minutes from time Agüero finally completed his hat-trick. And with brio, too. After a fine run and pass by Kyle Walker, Agüero burst past Christian Kabasele and, though siding, guided a low shot beyond the reach of the advancing Gomes.
Another tricky run by Sterling provoked a foul in the box in the 89th minute, and the winger picked himself up, consulted with Agüero, and rifled the ball into the net from the spot.
Unhappily for most of those in attendance, this proved not to be the time for a revival of 1982, still the only year when Watford have reached the top. They eventually finished as runners-up that season. City, meanwhile, were relegated. That part of the history is certainly not going to be repeated in the foreseeable future.
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