De Bruyne superb as City welcome back Stones, Silva in win vs. Watford
There was a strange feel to a game that caps off a busy festive fixture list; having sealed the win after 13 minutes, City watched Watford attempt to defend a 2-0 deficit for long periods before the game ended in a muddle of sleepy missed passes on a soaked surface.
When Kevin de Bruyne was scythed to the ground by Jason Puncheon in the dying minutes of Sunday's draw at Crystal Palace, nobody could have imagined he would be back to days later to put in a man-of-the-match performance. City's collective response to dropping two points in south London was to smother Watford for long periods. A match that ended 3-1 could easily have rendered double figures.
If a 3-1 win might have delivered a landslide victory, the suggestion is -- once again -- that profligacy was an issue. Any side with De Bruyne and David Silva prompting from midfield, plus Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling putting in tempting balls from the flanks, is going to carve out many chances, but too few were taken.
Manager rating out of 10
9 -- Another snapshot of how the manager's mind works: Guardiola put out the strongest side available, with the returning Silva and John Stones, plus the surprise inclusion of De Bruyne. He was rewarded with a fruitful first quarter of an hour, in which the game was won.
Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Ederson, 7 -- Fairly quiet apart from three saves; two comfortable, one outstanding as Andre Gray broke clear through the left channel and shot low. Ederson handled well, passed accurately long and short and was keen to do some of his defenders' work late on.
DF Kyle Walker, 6 -- Visibly limping by the end, after a couple of late pitch-length spurts. He was beaten too easily by Andre Carrillo for Watford's goal.
DF John Stones, 8 -- Looked accomplished as he immediately ran the back four's positioning and delivery of the ball forward. He put an early chance to score over the bar and tired in the second half when he was replaced by Danilo.
DF Nicolas Otamendi, 7 -- At ease with Stones returning, tough he misread Etienne Capoue's ball to release Gray for a shot that Ederson blocked. Otamendi's night ended with a dubious contact Roberto Pereyra that left Watford claiming a penalty.
DF Fabian Delph, 8 -- Clever use of the ball with both feet, this was an excellent return to the left back position. Commanding and in control, he was helpful in support of attacks and trusty at the back.
MF Fernandinho, 8 -- Slightly low key in a zone largely unvisited by Watford for long periods, but he bossed away dangerman Richarlison throughout until being replaced by Yaya Toure on 70 minutes.
MF Kevin De Bruyne, 9 -- Evidently hewn from teak, he exhibited his usual range of deft touches, long laser-accurate passes and swinging balls from the flank. Involved in setting up all three goals, his non-stop performance was all the more remarkable considering what happened at Selhurst Park two days ago.
MF David Silva, 8 -- Always a privilege to see him at work. One reverse ball with the outside of the left foot, to set Fernandinho into space, may have been lost in the middle of the park but was stunning in its beautiful simplicity. He has twinkle toes and 360 vision, though still cannot shoot for toffee.
MF Leroy Sane, 8 -- Back in the groove after a petulant display at Palace. At speed, with his left foot hovering over the ball, he is quite a sight for defenders: Balance, straight-line speed and unpredictability in one athletic bundle. He played in terrific crosses for the first goal and Stones' miss.
MF Raheem Sterling, 8 -- Nerveless finish for the opener, as the ball spun across at speed. Happy to run at defenders, cover back and take risks. Sterling is a player at the top of his game and with confidence to match.
FW Sergio Aguero, 7 -- Has to be commended for keeping going, when -- once again -- every shot he had went wrong. Even his headers proved just as directionless; he glanced yet another presentable cross from De Bruyne towards the corner flag. You felt the only way he would score was from a spilled ball from Heurelho Gomes about two yards out. Hey presto!
DF Danilo 6 -- Went straight John Stones' defensive position, after which the backline began to look shaky.
MF Yaya Toure, 6 -- Trundled about in tight little circles, delivering a range of three- and four-yard passes.
MF Bernardo Silva, NR -- One sumptuous, defence-splitting pass to Sterling led to a final-minute save from Gomes.
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.