Manchester City had beaten Watford 5-0 on the final day of the 2016/17 season so a thrashing wasn’t off the cards when they returned to Vicarage Road last September, just four games into the new campaign.
Sure, Marco Silva was the Hornets manager now and the early signs were that he had recruited smartly. Watford were unbeaten before the visit of City, but not many would have expected a shock.
It is maybe because City were expected to win, and having swept aside Liverpool 5-0 the previous week, expectation might have even been already growing to the point where they were expected to win well, that the 6-0 thumping they inflicted did not fully register.
Not in the same way that the 7-2 humiliation of Stoke did in October, anyway. But it was not just the result, but the sheer level of dominance and quality on show that made it clear something very special was happening on the blue half of Manchester.
Reports, Match of the Day and Soccer Saturday can only convey complete control and scything quality so well, after all. But this was the day that City proved that they were the real deal in the race for the Premier League title.
Three goals in ten minutes put the game to bed, but even before Sergio Aguero opened the scoring on 27, it was clear that City were finding a gear, and a level of dominance within matches, seldom seen on these shores.
The Argentine netted two before the break and completed his hat-trick late on. Young stars Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling provided further evidence that they were taking their respective games to a new level with goals. Even Nicolas Otamendi got in on the act.
Watford’s heaviest ever top flight defeat. 67% possession. 28 shots. But the stats only tell part of the story on a day when it finally felt as if Pep’s preferred brand of football properly landed in the Premier League. He even referenced Barcelona in the aftermath.
Even title-winning sides aren’t meant to travel to mid-table sides – especially when they’re confident and getting results – and sweep them aside this easily.
What was most striking was that it didn’t feel like a one-off. Liverpool was 5-0, as mentioned. Feyenoord in midweek was four. This made it 15 goals within a week. Dismantlings were becoming commonplace.
This was an elite side thrashing a decent opponent, who actually played reasonably well on the day, and it felt like they could do it again and again, week in and week out. And so it proved.
It wasn’t televised live, so not many people may have seen it at the time, but this was the day when Manchester City proved they couldn’t be caught in the title race.