It's amazing what a little bit of spine can do for a team.
Atop the table and the early class of the Premier League, Manchester City again look for quality performances from defender Vincent Kompany and midfielder Yaya Toure to maintain their perfect start as they face an upstart Watford squad Saturday at the Etihad.
While City finished second to Chelsea last season, they never mounted a purposeful challenge in their bid to repeat as champions. One of the reasons was the sluggish and inconsistent play of both Kompany and Toure, as both had a difficult time balancing club and country commitments and battled injuries throughout the campaign.
Though it's only August, the two have served notice City are prime candidates for their third title in five years. Off to a blazing start with the maximum nine points, a win over reigning league champions Chelsea and eight goals scored without one conceded, Kompany currently leads the team with two goals - both on headers - while Toure has registered an assist in all three matches while pulling the strings in a talented midfield that has connected on a league-best 87 percent of their passes.
Kompany marshaled a defence that conceded one shot on target at Goodison Park versus Everton on Sunday, and Toure provided a no-look chip that Samir Nasri looped into the back of the net to cap City's 2-0 victory. Aleksandar Kolarov also scored for City, who have had seven different players net in the early going.
"It was a very professional performance against a strong team at Goodison," manager Manuel Pellegrini told City's official website. "Again we scored two and kept a clean sheet so I think we are working very well as a team in both defence and attack."
The Citizens have won a club-record nine consecutive Premier League matches dating back to last season and also carry an eight-match home winning streak in league play into this contest.
On Thursday, City learned the first part of their path for European ambitions this season, being grouped with 2015 runners-up Juventus of Italy, Europa League champion Sevilla of Spain and German side Borussia Monchengladbach. Pellegrini was able to maneuver out of group play each of the last two seasons, only to be eliminated by current titleholders Barcelona in the round of 16 both times.
"The expectations are always there for us these days - you have to enjoy that and to embrace it," said Brian Marwood, the team's director of football services. "We're delighted that this is our fifth consecutive year in the Champions League. You're always going to draw tough teams, this is a hard tournament, but we're looking forward to it - we know we've got a lot of tough games ahead of us."
This match, however, figures to be far tougher on newly promoted Watford (0-3-0) than City. The Hornets have shown plenty of fight even if they haven't been able to score many goals, scratching out a scoreless draw at home versus Southampton on Sunday.
Watford did open the season with a 2-2 draw at Everton, but have failed to score in their last 277 minutes across all competitions after crashing out of the League Cup following a 1-0 defeat at Championship side Preston North End on Tuesday. Manager Quique Sanchez Flores remains convinced the Hornets will find their bearings on offence because the defence has been stout.
"We are confident we will not concede a lot of chances to the opponents, so this is a good start, and we are confident we will have the chances in matches that will allow us to win," he told Watford's official website. "They (Man City) have a lot of tools, and a lot of players with different characteristics. For us it is very important to prepare a good plan and a good strategy with the idea to be competitive and to have a chance during the game."
The teams have crossed paths only once in the Premier League, playing to a pair of draws in 2006-07. Most recently, City rallied for a 4-2 victory in the fourth round of the 2014 FA Cup, with Aguero netting a second-half hat trick.