Gabriel Jesus has often flattered to deceive during his five-and-a-bit years at Manchester City. That this was his first Premier League hat-trick from him in that time, despite playing in such a free-scoring team, is perhaps evidence that he has not quite delivered on his early promise from him. The Brazilian has never developed into more than a bit-part player and if Arsenal are indeed interested, then they may find some at the Etihad are at least willing to take their calls.
Wherever Jesus’ future lies, though, he clearly still has something to contribute to City’s quest for domestic and European glory between now and the end of next month if this irrepressible, match-winning display is anything to go by. Jesus scored four of the champions’ five goals and set up the other to extend their lead at the top to four points, in a display that will be remembered as among his best for him for the club.
The opposition may only have been a beleaguered Watford side, who remain seven adrift of safety under Roy Hodgson and look destined for an immediate return to the Championship, but then you can only beat who is in front of you. And in this title race, it is not enough to merely beat them. You have to beat them well.
Pep Guardiola will not only be cherishing the three points, which were to be expected, but the significant increase to the champions’ goal difference. City remain two short of Liverpool in that column, having played a game more, but through Jesus’ four and a special, long-range strike by Rodri, they cut the gap down and have the fixtures to keep chipping away. In a race as close as this, all the fine margins count.
This was never likely to provide a result that would change the title picture and it did not take long for City to put themselves into the ascendancy, with Jesus’ first coming after only four minutes. Joao Cancelo’s cross from the right ran all the way through to the left, Oleksandr Zinchenko’s drilled return passed through the mass of Watford defenders inside the penalty area and was diverted goalwards by Jesus from six yards out.
Given that Guardiola had won all of his previous 10 meetings with Watford by an aggregate score of 42-4, you suspected that it was already over as a contest. Jesus’ movement – starting wide right but taking up positions across the front-line – was proving almost impossible to track and he was unmarked once more for the second, nodding in Kevin de Bruyne’s tantalizing cross at the far post.
Watford were threatening in glimpses, though, and could have drawn level earlier when Cancelo’s sloopy use of possession sprung a one-on-one for Emmanuel Dennis. Zinchenko’s heroic recovery run and sliding challenge stopped the Watford striker in his tracks, but later, no-one was on hand to cut out a delightful Dennis chip to play in left-back Hassane Kamara. A low but not especially hard strike passed too easily through Ederson for 2-1.
City’s two-goal cushion would be restored in a matter of minutes, though, and in spectacular fashion. Jesus was involved once more but turned provider this time, intercepting a loose Tom Cleverley pass down by the corner flag and picking out Rodri on the edge of the penalty area with an intelligent, clipped ball. A chest down set up the breathtaking half-volley that followed, arcing high and into the top left-hand corner out of the helpless reach of Ben Foster.
Having allowed Watford back into the game once, City were not about to let it happen again and won a penalty just 14 seconds into the second half. Kamara was the culprit, tangling awkwardly with Jesus on another of piercing runs down the right. Though not usually City’s penalty taker, he immediately took possession of the ball and despite a lengthy, three-minute wait for VAR to check and confirm the spot kick, he converted for his hat-trick, sending Foster the wrong way.
And still, a first league hat-trick secured, he was not finished there. Five minutes later, Jesus finished off a flowing City counter-attack by tucking De Bruyne’s pass inside the near post. City effectively declared from that point as Guardiola finally took the opportunity to rest and rotate ahead of the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid on Tuesday, De Bruyne being the first to come off. At this stage of the season, it is a squad game, and Jesus’ irresistible display demonstrated.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.