Raheem Sterling scored the fastest Premier League goal of the season to help Manchester City to a 3-1 win over Watford at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.
The England international netted after only 39 seconds, before a Christian Kabasele own goal and a second-half finish from Sergio Aguero saw Pep Guardiola's side move 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League, with Andre Gray's late effort counting for little.
City's record 18-game winning run came to an end in a goalless draw at Crystal Palace on New Year's Eve and Guardiola took no chances with his line-up, with Kevin De Bruyne – passed fit after being hurt at Selhurst Park – joined by the returning David Silva in midfield, while John Stones made his first appearance since November at the heart of the defence.
Watford was looking for a response to its dramatic defeat to Swansea City but some slack defending in the first minute saw it fall behind and it rarely threatened a comeback from then on.
Kabesele's unfortunate own goal sapped the morale from the visitor, which has now lost six of its last seven league games, and the encounter turned into little more than a training exercise for the home side, with Aguero scoring his 13th top-flight goal of the season midway through the second half before Gray's consolation.
The result means Chelsea must beat Arsenal on Wednesday if it is to cut the gap to City to 14 points, while Watford, though in 10th place, is only five points above the relegation zone thanks to West Ham's win over West Brom. Watford lost to Swansea last time out after a collapse in the closing moments and it picked up where it left off against City, falling behind in the first minute.
Leroy Sane got away from Daryl Janmaat down the left and crossed for Sterling, who tapped home completely unmarked at the far post from six yards out.
The home side should have doubled its lead with only five minutes played, as Sane again made space on the left and teed up Stones, only for the centre-back to blast over with the goal gaping. But it was gifted a second in the 13th minute when Kabesele slid to intercept De Bruyne's low cross from the right and sent the ball spinning into the left-hand corner of the net.
Read: Aguero hopes to remain at City until 2020
De Bruyne was showing no signs of the injury inflicted by Jason Puncheon in the draw with Palace and he was inches away from making it 3-0 to City when his free-kick from the edge of the box crashed off the crossbar, with Heurelho Gomes having got fingertips to the ball.
Watford displayed some positives before the interval, though, and it took a fine save from Ederson to deny Richarlison one-on-one after the visitor broke through City's high line, before the Brazilian saved again from Andre Carrillo.
Aguero joins in
City, which had dropped to something of a pedestrian pace, looked eager to kill off any rising Watford hope of a comeback and Aguero wasted three decent openings from inside the penalty area, firing straight at Gomes before twice miscuing headers. However, in the 63rd minute, Gomes spilled a low cross right to the feet of Aguero, who could not miss the open goal from inside the six-yard box as the Watford keeper lay helpless on the sodden turf.
Gray steered home Carrillo's cut-back with eight minutes left to give City a minor headache and Nicolas Otamendi was fortunate not to concede a penalty for tripping Roberto Pereyra, but it now switches its focus to the domestic cups, with an FA Cup third-round clash at home to Burnley on Saturday followed by next Tuesday's visit of Bristol City in the first leg of the EFL Cup semifinal.
Key Opta stats:
- Manchester City has won its last eight matches against Watford in all competitions, doing so by an aggregate score of 27-4.
- Under Pep Guardiola at City, only Sergio Aguero (49) has scored more goals in all competitions than Raheem Sterling (28).
- Aguero has only scored more goals against Newcastle United (11) in all competitions for City than he has against Watford (10).
- Andre Gray's first five Premier League goals were scored in home games – his seven goals since then have all been scored away from home.