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The Big Match Preview: Watford vs Manchester City (Premier League)

Manchester City will look to bounce back from their disappointing 2-0 defeat at Wembley on the weekend as they travel to Vicarage Road to face relegation-threatened Watford.

Manchester City will look to bounce back from their disappointing 2-0 defeat at Wembley on the weekend as they travel to Vicarage Road to face relegation-threatened Watford.

City's opposition, who sacked manager Nigel Pearson on Sunday, sit in 17th place and with only three points separating them from Aston Villa in 18th. Watford will, therefore, be managed by under-23s coach Hayden Mullins for the remaining two league games of the season against City and Arsenal. Interestingly, the decision to remove Pearson makes them the first club to use more than three managers in a single Premier League season.

Arsenal, of course, knocked City out of the FA Cup on Saturday, meaning that Guardiola's side can only achieve a maximum of two trophies this season - and that relies on them overcoming Real Madrid as well as three more European opponents to win the Champions League in August.

Tomorrow's game will be an interesting one to watch. City's overwhelming talent and depth mean they naturally come into the game as favourites. However, Watford are the only one of the two teams playing for anything, which might mean that the Blues will struggle in this game.


Team News:

For City, the only absence in the squad is striker Sergio Agüero, who is looking to return in time for City's Champions League effort. The Argentine did post an Instagram video on Sunday showing him back in the gym, giving many City fans hope of his return in the next few weeks. Claudio Bravo may still be injured, but Ederson will start regardless of the Chilean's recovery.

Watford are in a worse situation injury-wise, with Isaac Success, Gerard Deulofeu, and Daryl Janmaat all ruled out with long-term injuries. Midfielder Etienne Capoue is also likely to miss the game with a knock.

Head to Head:

City have a truly exceptional record against Watford, having won their last 12 games against the Hornets, with an aggregate scoreline of 46 goals to six. To find the last time Watford beat City, you would have to go back to a Division Two match in March of 1989, where Watford won 1-0.

In recent history, City's last two games against Watford have been particularly memorable. The last fixture between the two clubs resulted in an 8-0 win for City, only one goal short of matching the all-time Premier League record for the biggest margin of victory. Before that, last season's FA Cup final saw City demolish Watford 6-0, matching the record for the biggest win in an FA Cup final - a record set by Bury in 1903.

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Form Guide:

Before their win over Norwich in early July, Pearson's side lost 8 out of their last 12 games, only winning one of them - a stunning 3-0 win to end Liverpool's unbeaten season in February, before the national lockdown postponed the football season. Their recent form has been more impressive, however - their last three games have resulted in two wins, over Newcastle and already-relegated Norwich.

City's form has been better, but not up to the standard they would expect. They did, of course, lose their last game against Arsenal, but have won their last three Premier League games with an aggregate scoreline of 12 goals to one.

Xtra Tactics:

Inferring Watford's tactics will be difficult due to the departure of Pearson two days before the game, but it's worth examining their recent tactical choices as well as what they could learn from Arsenal's sound win over Guardiola's team.

News from The Athletic suggests that it was Pearson's specific tactical actions in their 3-1 defeat to West Ham that contributed to his dismissal. Namely, the option to start the more attack-minded Tom Cleverly was seen as a risky move in an important game - perhaps the more defensively-focused Nathaniel Chalobah will be deployed against City to minimise the risk of City's advanced midfielders.

Watford have utilised a 4-2-3-1 shape in their last three games, two of which have resulted in wins. Interim manager Hayden Mullins also used this approach in Watford's 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace in his second of two games in charge in between the departure of Quique Sanchez Flores and the arrival of Pearson in December. Mullins may opt for a more attacking approach, pressuring City's centre-backs and midfielders as Arsenal did on Saturday.

Mikel Arteta attempted to shut down City's approach by cutting off passing lanes between the back four and using midfielders, even deep-lying ones, to stay tight to City's holding midfielder Ilkay Gundogan. This forced Garcia and Laporte to attempt medium-length passes to City's more advanced midfielders David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. If Watford mirror this high-pressure approach and combine it with physicality in midfield to intercept these alternative passing options, they could overwhelm City's buildup and create chances to snatch a good result.

Match Officials:

The referee for the game will be Michael Oliver, while Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett will be his assistants. The fourth official will be Kevin Friend while Lee Venamore will act as replacement official. Paul Tierney will operate as the VAR, while the assistant at Stockley Park will be Dan Robathan.


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