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Riyad Mahrez magic helps Manchester City hang on for win against Watford

Riyad Mahrez magic helps Manchester City hang on for win against Watford


Paul Mariner says Manchester United's inability to ink David De Gea to a long-term deal could mean the goalkeeper is on his way out of Old Trafford.

MANCHESTER, England -- Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho says he will wait until the last minute to pick his team to play Arsenal as he faces the prospect of lining up with just three fit defenders.

Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian and Diogo Dalot -- who have made two Premier League starts between them this season -- are the only defenders certain to be available to play Unai Emery's side at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Ashley Young is suspended and Victor Lindelof will miss out because of a thigh injury. There are also doubts over five others including Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw.

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Mourinho's injury problems are not restricted to his defence, with Alexis Sanchez sidelined because of a hamstring tear and Marcus Rashford doubtful because of an ankle problem.

"Against Southampton, three hours before the game I didn't know the team I was going to play," said Mourinho, who was forced to pick midfielders Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay in defence during the 2-2 draw at St Mary's.

"Nobody knew the team and ourselves we didn't know yet. We were waiting to see who could and couldn't [play] and I think we are going to be in a similar situation.

"If you asked me at 11 a.m. [on Tuesday] I would say Smalling is not playing, Bailly is not playing, Jones is not playing.

"Of course, Lindelof is out of the question. Valencia is not playing, Shaw is a doubt, Darmian is back but I have to wait and maybe we decide like the last match a couple of hours before the game."

United face Arsenal sitting seventh in the table, 16 points behind leaders Manchester City and eight adrift of the top four.

Mourinho has said repeatedly he was expecting a difficult campaign and revealed ahead of the meeting with the Gunners that he has been proved right because his was the only team in the top six that did not to improve over the summer.

United spent £68 million on three new players, including £48m on Brazilian midfielder Fred who has only started three of the last 13 games.

In comparison, Liverpool spent £167m, Chelsea £128m, Arsenal £68m and Manchester City £63m while Tottenham did not sign a single new player.

"All of the teams they got better," Mourinho told a news conference on Tuesday. "Spurs was the team who didn't make direct investment but the best investment is to keep the top players you have so everything got better and we didn't so I was expecting difficulties for this season but my target is still the top four and we have to fight until the end to try to finish in the top four."

United's poor start to the season -- they have taken 22 points from their first 14 games -- has prompted questions about whether the squad are still behind their manager.

However, Mourinho insisted the performance levels of the players should not be driven by their relationship with him, but out of respect for the shirt.

"A football player is paid -- and very well paid -- to be a football professional," said Mourinho.

"What is that? It is to train every day to his limits, to play every game to his limits, [it] is to behave socially according to the nature of his job, [it] is to respect the millions of fans around the world and to respect the club.

"If a player doesn't do that, one thing is to perform well and not so well, another thing is to be a football professional. If you say that a player plays well or bad because of how good a manager is, you are calling the player dishonest.

"I disagree totally with that question. You have to analyse a player by 'is he performing, yes or no?'

"You shouldn't go in that direction because you are calling the players dishonest.

"You believe a player scores in his own goal and then runs and celebrates 'I scored in my own goal because I don't like the manager'? Do you believe in that? I don't believe in that."

WATFORD, England -- Manchester City moved five points clear at the top of the Premier League as they held on in a tense finish for a 2-1 victory at Watford on Tuesday. It appeared to be business as usual when Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez scored either side of half-time, but Abdoulaye Doucoure's late goal set up a dramatic finish as they pushed for an equaliser.


Watford didn't sit back but City were still able to employ their usual dominant gameplay, enjoying more than 70 percent possession. While the scoreline wasn't as emphatic as they have been in recent weeks, for 85 minutes it was one of their most dynamic performances of the season against a side with the sixth-best home record in the Premier League. Playing 24 hours before closest rivals Liverpool keeps piling the pressure on Jurgen Klopp' side.


City were rattled in a tense final 10 minutes and lost their shape and nerve. Pep Guardiola was screaming from the sidelines for his defenders to regain their composure and think about their passing as they repeatedly fired the ball clear as the Hornets bombarded the visitors with high balls into the box.

Manager rating out of 10

7 -- Guardiola is trying to rotate his squad for the busy December and January period and his alterations worked out well. The whole back four changed -- Vincent Kompany and John Stones came in at centre-half and were strong against the physical threat of Troy Deeney and Isaac Success, while the full-backs offered more protection. Raheem Sterling was given a rest and Mahrez and Sane stepped up to try to keep their place for Saturday's trip to Chelsea, knowing the England winger is likely to return. A late change to bring on Nicolas Otamendi could have backfired with Watford scoring almost immediately.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Ederson, 7 -- Big moment in the first half when he kept out Deeney's close-range effort. More often seen as an auxiliary defender so it was a reminder that he is also a good goalkeeper.

DF Kyle Walker, 7 -- Linked up well with Mahrez moving forward and shut down any Watford threat down the left-hand side.

DF Vincent Kompany, 7 -- Recalled for his first Premier League start in more than a month, and put in a solid display. A couple of delightful passes through the lines to set up dangerous moments.

DF John Stones, 7 -- Has missed both Premier League games since the international break, but turned in an impressive performance that will show Guardiola that he can rotate his centre-backs without impacting the team.

DF Fabian Delph, 6 -- Didn't quite offer as much of an attacking threat as the injured Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko. Gave the ball away for Watford's goal.

MF Fernandinho, 7 -- Now the only City player to have started every Premier League and Champions League game this season, such is his importance. Kept the midfield ticking with his quick passing and ability to close down counter-attacks.

MF Bernardo Silva, 7 -- Fewer mistakes than the weekend as City dominated possession and worked well with Mahrez as they overloaded on the right-hand side.

MF David Silva, 8 -- Offered the visitors more control and his passing unlocked the Hornets defence time and again. Should have extended his goal-scoring streak to five in five starts.

FW Riyad Mahrez, 8 -- Gave Jose Holebas a torrid time with his ability to go inside or out. Most threatening when he came inside and his wicked in-swinging crosses caused the opposition all sorts of problems and led to the opening goal.

FW Gabriel Jesus, 6 -- Worked hard, pulling the centre-backs all over the pitch. Some great moments of individual skill, but that goal eludes him as he tries to make the most of Sergio Aguero's injury.

FW Leroy Sane, 8 -- The winger is back up to full pace after a mixed start to the season. Tore through the back four with his speed for an early chance well saved by Ben Foster but got the crucial breakthrough.


MF Ilkay Gundogan, N/R -- Kept City moving.

DF Nicolas Otamendi, N/R -- Watford scored shortly after he came on.

DF Aymeric Laporte, N/R -- Late change to hold onto the three points.

WATFORD, England -- Three points from Vicarage Road on Manchester City's 2-1 win over Watford in the Premier League.

1. Relentless City claim another win at Watford

Manchester City heaped the pressure back onto Liverpool at the top of the Premier League by moving five points clear of their closest challengers with a hard-earned 2-1 victory against Watford at Vicarage Road.

Having seen Liverpool keep the title race alive with a 96th-minute winner against Everton at Anfield on Sunday, City responded by claiming the points against Javi Gracia's team to leave Liverpool needing to win at Burnley on Wednesday in order to again cut the deficit to two points

But although City ultimately emerged with all three points, Watford made the champions fight all the way for victory with Abdoulaye Doucoure's 85th-minute goal ensuring a nervous ending to the game for Pep Guardiola's men.

Troy Deeney had gone close to opening the scoring for Watford before Leroy Sane put City 1-0 ahead on 40 minutes with a chested goal from Riyad Mahrez's cross.

And when Mahrez doubled City's lead early in the second half, another convincing victory looked to be on the cards, especially with Guardiola's players having averaged over three goals per game in the Premier League during 2018.

Watford held firm, however, and their committed, physical approach to the game gave City numerous problems.

And although it wasn't pretty, City emerged with the win and will look back on the result as a crucial one if they go on to retain the title at the end of the season.

2. Jesus is City's weak link

When a team is as impressive and formidable as this Manchester City side, it is perhaps harsh and overcritical to look for flaws, but perfection is not within Pep Guardiola's grasp and Gabriel Jesus is proof of that.

The Brazilian forward, still only 21, is approaching the second anniversary of his arrival at City from Palmeiras, but his progress has stalled in recent months and his performance at Vicarage Road will be a concern to Guardiola.

With Sergio Aguero not risked due to a slight injury, Jesus was again given the chance to prove his worth to the City manager by finally scoring only his second Premier League goal of the season.

But that solitary strike against Huddersfield in August remains the only one that Jesus has scored in the league after he fired another blank against Watford before being substituted on 87 minutes.

Wingers Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez ensured that Jesus's second-half misses did not prove costly by scoring City's goals either side of half-time.

But against stronger opposition, perhaps in the Champions League, Guardiola will need Aguero fit and available because Jesus is currently not good enough to play as a central-forward for this City team.

His confidence has clearly taken a dent in recent months and injuries haven't helped.

But the pace and audacity which Jesus displayed in his early months at City are no longer so obvious and he is not the handful he was.

He is clearly still young enough to emerge from his slump, but City are a club in a hurry and Guardiola might choose to bolster his attacking options in January because right now he simply cannot afford to be without Aguero for a prolonged period.

3. Watford happy to occupy Premier League doldrums

Forget the suggestion that the Premier League is about six teams chasing the title and the other 14 battling to stay up.

The first point is debatable enough with Manchester City once again threatening to run away with the title, but the idea that the "lower 14" are only out to survive has also been debunked by a small handful of clubs, including Watford this season.

Everton are another, with their sights set on Europa League qualification, but Watford, perhaps alongside Bournemouth and Leicester, are in a group of teams that are unlikely to qualify for Europe, but more significantly, also too strong to worry about relegation.

Against City, Watford kept the champions at bay for 40 minutes before Leroy Sane opened the scoring and they could even have taken the lead when Troy Deeney's 32nd-minute strike was saved by Ederson.

Javi Gracia's team were confident enough to give City a game rather than spend 90 minutes sitting deep on a damage limitation exercise, but ultimately, it wasn't enough against the leaders.

Watford have shown enough this season, though, to suggest that they now belong in that small pocket of clubs who are too organised and strong to go down.

But they are also not yet good enough, or do not possess a squad deep enough, to set their targets higher.

It must be a strange place to be -- unable to look higher, but also with the security of not having to look beneath themselves with real concern.