Goals from Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez gave Manchester City a hard-fought win at Watford which re-established their five-point cushion at the top of the Premier League table.
City had been frustrated early on by saves from Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster until Sane scored in the 40th minute by diverting in Riyad Mahrez’s inswinging cross with his chest.
Six minutes after half-time Mahrez – recalled as manager Pep Guardiola once again rotated his team – increased the lead by sweeping in Gabriel Jesus’ cross at the back post.
City controlled the game with more than 70% of possession but Abdoulaye Doucoure scrambled in for Watford in the 85th minute to give the hosts hope of an unlikely comeback.
That resulted in a nervy finish for City as the hosts sent Foster forward for set-pieces, with Guardiola introducing defensive reinforcements to deal with the pressure, but the visitors held on for their seventh successive league win.
The victory moves them five points clear of second-placed Liverpool, who will again try to reduce the gap when they travel to Burnley on Wednesday.
The trip to Vicarage Road was City’s second of 13 matches in 44 days and manager Pep Guardiola once again rotated his squad, as he did in the weekend win over Bournemouth.
Sergio Aguero remained sidelined with injury, top scorer Raheem Sterling was rested and an entirely different back four was brought in, including captain Vincent Kompany and England defenders Kyle Walker and John Stones.
Mahrez and David Silva were two of those rested at the weekend and both returned and were influential throughout.
City would have added more goals but for the excellence of Foster, who denied Mahrez and Sane when one-on-one in the first half.
He also produced a fine low save to stop the Algerian’s 20-yard shot in the second.
The edgy finish to the game was in stark contrast to the rest of the match when City looked in control.
The Watford goal came just two minutes after Kompany left the field holding his hamstring, something which will be of concern with the number of games to come in the coming weeks, and suddenly City’s defence looked flustered.
Regardless City held on for their 13th win from 15 games this season and remain unbeaten