When the final whistle confirmed their emphatic 6-0 victory that was the biggest for 116 years, it meant that this City team which broke a host of records last season had sealed the first domestic Treble of League Cup, League and FA Cup in the long history of our game. It was the treble that Sir Alex Ferguson had once said was impossible.
Some will claim it confirms them as the best English club side ever and it is certainly an argument worth making. More, perhaps, will point to the Manchester United team of 1998-99 whose Treble did not include the League Cup but was crowned by victory against Bayern Munich in Barcelona in one of the most dramatic endings to a football match there has ever been. Others, too, will mention Liverpool’s European Cup-League-League Cup Treble of 1984.
It is to be hoped that the praise that is heaped on City in the wake of this feat will dispel some of the angst that has somehow been allowed to invade their own response to the victorious end to their magnificent title race with Liverpool. City, who have, quite rightly, been lavished with praise every week for much of the past two years, appear to believe they have not been given enough respect.
If they and their fans want continued success, City are going to have to get used to the idea that people often root for the underdogs to win. Manchester United fans could tell them that when they became the team everyone loved to hate under Ferguson. It is a fact of sport. If they want sympathy and love from neutrals, they could always go back to being everyone’s favourite basket-case club.
Instead, they have this: a team that dazzled on Saturday as it has dazzled for so much of the season. City were so good that by the time Raheem Sterling poked his third goal and City’s sixth into the net late in the game Guardiola had stopped celebrating and started looking a little embarrassed. City are so good they could afford to feel sorry for their opponents.
The first clear chance of the match, against the run of play, obviously, had fallen to Watford. Abdoulaye Doucoure intercepted a rare careless pass from City with the game ten minutes old and fed Gerard Deulofeu on the right. Deulofeu sprinted into space on the right and spotted Roberto Pereyra unmarked in the centre as City struggled to get back.
Four minutes later, City were ahead. Doucoure lost the ball inside the City half and when it was moved quickly to Sterling, his shot ballooned into the air and was nodded down by David Silva. When the ball came back to Silva, Kiko Femenia flung himself in the way of his left-foot shot but only succeeded in deflecting it past Heurelho Gomes.
Five minutes before half time, the game was effectively over. Bernardo Silva was allowed time and space midway inside the Watford half and his curling ball inside Femenia confused Gomes who dived to try to cut it out but allowed it to run to Gabriel Jesus. Jesus applied a cushioned touch and the ball bounced goalwards. At the moment it landed on the goal line, Sterling lashed it into the back of the net.
City went further ahead after an hour. The perseverance of Gabriel Jesus won the ball for City in midfield and when Sterling played the Brazilian forward through down the left, he squared it unselfishly for substitute Kevin de Bruyne. De Bruyne sat Gomes down with a feint, took another touch and then drilled the ball into the back of the net.
Gabriel Jesus scored the goal he richly deserved midway through the half when De Bruyne played him in on the half way line and he ran on to slide the ball past Gomes. It was a stroll for the champions now and they scored their fifth ten minutes from time when a driven cross from Bernardo Silva found Sterling at the back post and he lifted the ball into the roof of the net. Sterling applied the finishing touch three minutes from time to complete the first hat-trick in the final since 1953.