Gabriel Jesus has often been flattered for cheating during his five and a half years at Manchester City. That this was his first hat-trick in the Premier League at the time, despite playing in such a goalless team, is perhaps proof that he has not delivered on his initial promise. The Brazilian has never become more than a supporting player and if Arsenal are really interested then they can find some at the Etihad who are at least willing to take calls from him.
However, wherever Jesus’ future lies, 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. happen. Jesus scored four of the champion’s five goals and assisted the other to extend his lead up front to four points, in a performance that will be remembered as one of his best with the club.
The opposition may only have been a beleaguered Watford, who remain seven adrift from safety under Roy Hodgson and look destined for an immediate return to the Championship, but you can only beat whoever is in front of you. And in this title race, it’s not enough to just beat them. You have to beat them well.
Pep Guardiola will not only be assessing the three points, which were to be expected, but also the significant boost to the champions’ goal difference. City follows Liverpool two in that column, having played one more game, but through Jesus’ four and a special long-range shot from Rodri, they narrowed the gap and have the games to keep narrowing it down. In a race as close as this, all fine margins count.
This is likely never to provide a title picture-changing result and it didn’t take long for City to get into the ascendancy, with Jesus first coming after just four minutes. Joao Cancelo’s cross from the right ran to the left, Oleksandr Zinchenko’s perforated return passed through the mass of Watford defenders inside the box and was deflected into goal by Jesus from six metres.
Given that Guardiola had won all of his previous 10 meetings with Watford by an aggregate score of 42-4, you suspected he was already over as a competition. Starting off wide on the right but taking up positions on the front row, Jesus’ move was proving almost impossible to track and once again he was unmarked for second, heading into Kevin de Bruyne’s tempting cross at the far post.
However, Watford threatened a glimpse and could have equalized sooner when Cancelo’s use of possession led to 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 a delicious chip from Dennis to play at left-back Hassane Kamara. A low but not particularly hard shot went too easily past Ederson for 2-1.
However, City’s two-goal cushion would be restored in a matter of minutes and in spectacular fashion. Jesus was involved once again, but this time he became a provider, intercepting a loose pass from Tom Cleverley by the corner flag and selecting Rodri on the edge of the penalty area with a clever, cut ball. A chest strike set up the impressive half-volley that followed, arcing high and into the top left corner out of the helpless reach of Ben Foster.
Having allowed Watford back in the game once, City were unwilling to let it happen again, winning a penalty just 14 seconds into the second half. Kamara was the culprit, clumsily tangling with Jesus in another penetrating run down the right. Although not usually City’s penalty taker, he immediately took possession of the ball and, despite a long three-minute wait for VAR to verify and confirm the penalty, converted for his hat-trick, sending Foster down the Wrong way.
And yet, with a Premier League hat-trick assured, it didn’t end there. Five minutes later, Jesus finished off a flowing City counter-attack by slipping De Bruyne’s pass inside the near post. City declared effectively from that point as Guardiola finally took the opportunity to rest and rotate ahead of the Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid on Tuesday, De Bruyne being the first to leave. At this point in the season, it’s a team game, and Jesus’ irresistible display proved it.