Man City hold serve at Watford but Gabriel Jesus' performance will again concern Pep Guardiola
WATFORD, England -- Three points from Vicarage Road on Manchester City's 2-1 win over Watford in the Premier League.
1. Relentless City claim another win at Watford
Manchester City heaped the pressure back onto Liverpool at the top of the Premier League by moving five points clear of their closest challengers with a hard-earned 2-1 victory against Watford at Vicarage Road.
Having seen Liverpool keep the title race alive with a 96th-minute winner against Everton at Anfield on Sunday, City responded by claiming the points against Javi Gracia's team to leave Liverpool needing to win at Burnley on Wednesday in order to again cut the deficit to two points
But although City ultimately emerged with all three points, Watford made the champions fight all the way for victory with Abdoulaye Doucoure's 85th-minute goal ensuring a nervous ending to the game for Pep Guardiola's men.
Troy Deeney had gone close to opening the scoring for Watford before Leroy Sane put City 1-0 ahead on 40 minutes with a chested goal from Riyad Mahrez's cross.
And when Mahrez doubled City's lead early in the second half, another convincing victory looked to be on the cards, especially with Guardiola's players having averaged over three goals per game in the Premier League during 2018.
Watford held firm, however, and their committed, physical approach to the game gave City numerous problems.
And although it wasn't pretty, City emerged with the win and will look back on the result as a crucial one if they go on to retain the title at the end of the season.
2. Jesus is City's weak link
When a team is as impressive and formidable as this Manchester City side, it is perhaps harsh and overcritical to look for flaws, but perfection is not within Pep Guardiola's grasp and Gabriel Jesus is proof of that.
The Brazilian forward, still only 21, is approaching the second anniversary of his arrival at City from Palmeiras, but his progress has stalled in recent months and his performance at Vicarage Road will be a concern to Guardiola.
With Sergio Aguero not risked due to a slight injury, Jesus was again given the chance to prove his worth to the City manager by finally scoring only his second Premier League goal of the season.
But that solitary strike against Huddersfield in August remains the only one that Jesus has scored in the league after he fired another blank against Watford before being substituted on 87 minutes.
Wingers Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez ensured that Jesus's second-half misses did not prove costly by scoring City's goals either side of half-time.
But against stronger opposition, perhaps in the Champions League, Guardiola will need Aguero fit and available because Jesus is currently not good enough to play as a central-forward for this City team.
His confidence has clearly taken a dent in recent months and injuries haven't helped.
But the pace and audacity which Jesus displayed in his early months at City are no longer so obvious and he is not the handful he was.
He is clearly still young enough to emerge from his slump, but City are a club in a hurry and Guardiola might choose to bolster his attacking options in January because right now he simply cannot afford to be without Aguero for a prolonged period.
3. Watford happy to occupy Premier League doldrums
Forget the suggestion that the Premier League is about six teams chasing the title and the other 14 battling to stay up.
The first point is debatable enough with Manchester City once again threatening to run away with the title, but the idea that the "lower 14" are only out to survive has also been debunked by a small handful of clubs, including Watford this season.
Everton are another, with their sights set on Europa League qualification, but Watford, perhaps alongside Bournemouth and Leicester, are in a group of teams that are unlikely to qualify for Europe, but more significantly, also too strong to worry about relegation.
Against City, Watford kept the champions at bay for 40 minutes before Leroy Sane opened the scoring and they could even have taken the lead when Troy Deeney's 32nd-minute strike was saved by Ederson.
Javi Gracia's team were confident enough to give City a game rather than spend 90 minutes sitting deep on a damage limitation exercise, but ultimately, it wasn't enough against the leaders.
Watford have shown enough this season, though, to suggest that they now belong in that small pocket of clubs who are too organised and strong to go down.
But they are also not yet good enough, or do not possess a squad deep enough, to set their targets higher.
It must be a strange place to be -- unable to look higher, but also with the security of not having to look beneath themselves with real concern.