Five goals in the first 18 minutes set Manchester City on their way as they ripped apart a woeful Watford team to cut Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League to two points.
City had already bounced back from last weekend’s humbling by Norwich with a clinical Champions League win at Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, but this was a timely reminder of their ruthlessness and attacking power.
Bernardo Silva scored a hat-trick as Pep Guardiola’s side ran riot to clinch their biggest league win since he took charge in 2016. They also hit the woodwork twice and continued to chase further goals until the end, but a record victory eluded them.
Manchester United’s 9-0 win over Ipswich in 1995 remains the biggest victory in the Premier League era but City become only the seventh team to win a top-flight game by an eight-goal margin in the modern era.
City scored the opener after 52 seconds through David Silva before Sergio Aguero added a penalty and Riyad Mahrez struck via a deflection.
Bernardo Silva headed the fourth and Nicolas Otamendi slid in the fifth. After the break City’s intensity eased but Bernardo Silva struck twice more and Kevin de Bruyne slammed in the eighth.
After David Silva got on the end of a brilliantly bending cross from De Bruyne to slide home from six yards, Watford almost hit back immediately. Gerard Deulofeu went round Nicolas Otamendi with an ease that will worry City boss Pep Guardiola, but saw his shot saved by an onrushing Ederson.
From then on, the home side took complete control – aided by a defensive horror show by the Hornets that saw them suffer an even bigger nightmare than when City hit them for six in the FA Cup final last May.
Ben Foster gave away a needless penalty when he rushed from his line to send Mahrez tumbling, with Aguero converting from the spot, and things quickly got worse for the visitors.
Mahrez made it 3-0 after 12 minutes when his free-kick deflected in off Tom Cleverley, and after 15 minutes it was 4-0 when more dreadful marking allowed Bernardo Silva to stoop and head home after Otamendi flicked on a corner.
Otamendi himself made it 5-0 shortly afterwards when he turned in Aguero’s clever cut-back, before City gave their fans a rest from further celebrations – for a little while at least.
The onslaught continued after half-time when Bernardo Silva slotted home from a David Silva pass to make it 6-0, and he completed his first hat-trick for City when he converted another De Bruyne cross on the hour mark.
De Bruyne, one of the key orchestrators of this attacking masterclass, got his name on the scoresheet before the end too, casually smashing home City’s eighth with five minutes left.
City’s fans urged their team forward for more goals – and United’s record – but for once on what was a painful afternoon for them, Watford’s defence held out.
The only consolation for Quique Sanchez Flores, who was overseeing only his second game since being reappointed as Watford boss, is that his side do not have to play City every week.
After the high of his side’s spirited second-half comeback to draw against Arsenal last week, this was a reminder of why they are bottom of the table, and winless so far this season.
Their miserable afternoon was summed up by the sight of Dimitri Foulquier trudging off on his Premier League debut as he was substituted after only 32 minutes, with his side already five goals down.
Sanchez Flores has work to do to lift morale before his side play more winnable games in weeks to come.
Liverpool can restore their five-point advantage at the top of the table by beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday but this was a statement that City are still a force to contend with in the title race.
In a week where their supposed defensive weakness has been an ongoing topic of discussion, City responded with an impressive show of attacking strength.
There will be bigger tests of their back-line, of course, and the way Otamendi went so weakly to ground when Deulofeu ran at him was not exactly a reassuring sight.
But with City in this kind of form – even with the prolific Raheem Sterling left on the bench – there will be few teams who can live with them.