Manchester City were left licking their wounds after a shock FA Cup exit to Arsenal but Kevin Hatchard believes they'll take out their frustration on manager-less Watford on Tuesday...
"City have smashed Watford 6-0 and 8-0 in their last two meetings, and 18 of their 24 league wins this term have been by more than one goal."
Watford v Manchester City
Tuesday 21 July, 18:00
Live on Sky Sports Main Event
Pearson flung upon Watford's coaching rubbish heap
Watford recently displayed an excellent banner which strongly featured club legend Graham Taylor, a man who took the Hornets from the fourth tier of English football to the first in the space of five years, a manager who spent ten years in the hot-seat in his first spell and five in his second. Had Taylor been a manager under the current regime, one wonders if he'd have been allowed such latitude. I strongly suspect the answer to that question would have been a resounding "no".
The Pozzo family swung their razor-sharp axe again on Sunday, as they dismissed manager Nigel Pearson with just two rounds of Premier League fixtures remaining. Yes, the Hornets aren't safe, and they were abject in Friday's critical 3-1 defeat at West Ham, a result that has saved the Hammers from the drop. However, a club that didn't even bother to directly call Javi Gracia when they sacked him, even though he got them to last season's FA Cup final, has to be viewed through a grubby lens when it comes to how they deal with their coaches.
Watford have used four different managers this season, and since the Pozzo family's takeover in 2012, not a single manager has made it to two years in charge. Hayden Mullins and Graham Stack will take the reins for the final two matches.
On the pitch, Watford have won two of the last three top-flight games, and at Vicarage Road they have won six of their last ten PL outings. That sequence includes a 3-0 win over champions Liverpool, the result that shattered the Reds' hopes of finishing the league season unbeaten. Watford still have a three-point lead over Aston Villa and Bournemouth in the race for survival, and Bournemouth have played a game more.
It remains to be seen whether Mullins will make significant changes. The influential Gerard Deulofeu is still sidelined, while midfield enforcer Etienne Capoue is also injured.
Cup defeat another jolt for flawed City
When Manchester City hit top gear, there are few teams who can live with them, and few outfits that paint as captivating an attacking picture. However, the problems that have brought about nine Premier League defeats and a shock semi-final loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup cannot be dismissed as fleeting issues, mere glitches in the footballing matrix.
City failed to replace former defensive leader Vincent Kompany, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi are clearly no longer trusted, and teenage defender Eric Garcia was literally given the run-around at Wembley by Arsenal's two-goal hero Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. City have conceded at an average of almost a goal per game in the Premier League, and they have lost four of their last six competitive matches away from the Etihad Stadium.
Manager Pep Guardiola is rightly lauded as one of the great coaches of recent times, but he must now find a solution if he is to claim the ultimate prize that is the Champions League trophy. City are [4.8] to win the tournament, but if their defensive issues persist, it's far from certain that they will be able to maximise the potential of a 2-1 first-leg lead against Real Madrid in the last 16.
Fernandinho will likely return to the side alongside Aymeric Laporte at centre-back, while Rodri could be asked to provide solidity in midfield. Sergio Aguero is still out injured.
Wounded City to deepen Watford's worries
Manchester City obliterated Watford in an 8-0 win at the Etihad Stadium in September, scoring five goals in the first 18 minutes. They beat the same opponents 6-0 in last season's FA Cup final, and last term they beat them 3-1 and 2-1 in the league. In all competitions, City have won their last 12 meetings with the Hornets.
Given that Watford have been making slow starts and have trailed at half time in four of their last five games, there's certainly a case to be made for backing City/City in the HT/FT market at [1.95]. In their last seven competitive wins, City have led at half time.
However, I'll back City -1.5 on the Asian Handicap here at [1.96]. If you look at City's 24 league wins this term, 18 of them have been by two goals or more.
Don't expect defences to excel
Watford haven't kept a clean sheet in the league since late February, and a change of coach is unlikely to see them get one against a team that has put 14 goals past them in the last two meetings. City have whacked in 25 goals in their last eight top-flight appearances, and given their own defensive issues, there's certainly scope to back Over 3.5 Goals here at [2.28].
Sterling surge could yield a profit
After a mid-season drought, Raheem Sterling has rediscovered his scoring touch, netting seven goals in his last nine appearances. He scored twice against the Hornets at Wembley last season, and is trading at [2.1] to score here.
Gabriel Jesus has scored in three of his last four games, and is [1.86] to score in 90 minutes.
Kevin Hatchard 2019-20 English Football P/L
Points Staked: 57
Points Returned: 34.72
P/L: -22.28 points
2016-19 Premier League P/L: +11.57 points
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Back Manchester City -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at [1.96]
Back Raheem Sterling to score at [2.1] (if he starts)