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City's magical touch returns

De Bruyne shines as Sterling sets leaders on way


Right call: Raheem Sterling hails his early opener

Right call: Raheem Sterling hails his early opener

Right call: Raheem Sterling hails his early opener

Kevin de Bruyne made a dramatic return to action as Manchester City eased back to winning ways with a convincing 3-1 victory over Watford.

The Belgian did not score, but was the main architect as the Premier League leaders overcame Sunday's rare blip at Crystal Palace with strikes from Raheem Sterling - after less than a minute - a Christian Kabasele own goal and Sergio Aguero.

De Bruyne had been highly doubtful for the clash after being carried off in the goalless draw at Selhurst Park - which ended City's record-breaking run of 18 successive wins - but he showed no effects at all.

Watford were outplayed by City for a second time this season, following a 6-0 hammering in September, but did manage a late consolation from Andre Gray.

The result did not seem in doubt from the moment Sterling prodded home the opener after just 38 seconds.

Leroy Sane was the early inspiration, bursting down the left and pulling the ball back for the England international to tap in his 18th of the season.

It was as if City had been affronted by the Palace result and were determined to take it out on the Hornets yet again.

Moments later, John Stones, back in the side after 12 games out injured, should have doubled the lead but he lofted a straightforward chance over.

City's seemingly inevitable second came after 13 minutes, this time De Bruyne delivering from the right and the unfortunate Kabasele sliding in to flick beyond Heurelho Gomes.

De Bruyne went close to netting the third himself as Gomes tipped his free-kick onto the bar. Further chances came as De Bruyne twice picked out Aguero but the Argentinian was denied by Gomes.

Watford did carve out some good openings. The best fell to Gray after he was played through by Etienne Capoue, but Ederson diverted wide.

But it came as no surprise when City made it 3-0 after the break, De Bruyne again causing trouble with a wicked ball from the right. Gomes could not keep hold and gifted a simple chance for Aguero to poke in.

De Bruyne deserved a goal and he again went close.

Watford were doomed to their seventh loss in nine but had the final say when Andre Carillo crossed and Gray turned in. They also wanted a late penalty when Roberto Pereyra went down under a Nicolas Otamendi challenge but nothing was given.

Man City: Ederson, Walker, Stones (Danilo 67), Otamendi, Delph, De Bruyne (B Silva, 79), Fernandinho (Toure 71), Silva, Sane, Sterling, Aguero.

Unused subs: Bravo, Gundogan, Mangala, Zinchenko

Watford: Gomes, Janmaat, Wague, Kabasele, Zeegelaar, Watson (Pereyra 61), Capoue (Cleverley 61), Richarlison (Sinclair 82), Doucoure, Carrillo, Gray.

Unused subs: Karnezis, Prodl, Mariappa, Holebas

Man of the match: De Bruyne

Match rating: 8/10

Referee: Lee Mason

Belfast Telegraph