Pep Guardiola saluted “fantastic” Gabriel Jesus after the Brazilian scored four times as Manchester City crushed Watford 5-1 to move four points clear at the top of the Premier League on Saturday.
Jesus stole the show at the Etihad Stadium with the first Premier League haul of three or more goals in his career.
The forward had netted only once in the league since September, but he tore Watford to shreds with a predatory display of finishing.
He struck twice in the first half before Watford’s Hassane Kamara briefly reduced the deficit.
Rodri restored City’s two-goal advantage and Jesus bagged two more after half-time to complete the rout.
“It’s amazing. Sometimes you play so good and don’t score and sometimes it is like this and you score all the chances you have,” Jesus said.
“I’m happy it was my day. Now is the best moment of the season. When you decide the games and win the trophies. That’s what football is for us.”
After losing to Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-finals last weekend, Guardiola’s side have signalled their determination to retain the title.
They dismissed Brighton 3-0 on Wednesday and their demolition of second bottom Watford keeps the pressure on second placed Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp’s men can close the gap back to one point if they beat struggling Everton in the Merseyside derby at Anfield on Sunday.
In a thrilling title race that looks destined to go down to the wire, City have five league games left as they chase a fourth English crown in five years.
Their stroll against Watford was the ideal preparation for the Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid in Manchester on Tuesday.
“If there’s one person who deserves the best in life, it’s Gabriel. It doesn’t matter what position he plays, we know how he fights for his mates. He’s fantastic,” Guardiola said.
“We had a ‘final’ today and we won it. Now we have an opportunity to play a ‘final’ against Leeds.
“Nothing changes. We have to win all five games to be champions.”
Guardiola made six changes from the Brighton game, with Ruben Dias replacing the injured John Stones for his first start since March 1 after a hamstring injury.
Since drawing 0-0 at the Etihad in 2006, Watford had lost on each of their previous seven visits, with an aggregate score of 25-2 to City.
They haven’t beaten City since 1989 and it took just four minutes for Guardiola’s men to assert their superiority.
Joao Cancelo’s cross reached Oleksandr Zinchenko and he picked out the unmarked Jesus, who timed his run to finish from close-range.
City’s early dominance was interrupted by a dangerous Watford counter as Emmanuel Dennis surged clear before Zinchenko made a superb last-ditch tackle to avert the danger.
The champions held 80 percent of the possession and that incessant pressure paid off in the 23rd minute.
Kevin De Bruyne was the creator with an inch-perfect cross and Jesus applied the finishing touch with a deft header.
Watford pulled one back against the run of play five minutes later.
Dennis flicked a pass into Kamara’s path and the Ivorian hit a low strike that should have been easy for City keeper Ederson, who somehow allowed it to sneak past his weak attempted save.
Rodri eased City’s sudden anxiety in the 34th minute as the Spanish midfielder smashed a blistering volley into the top corner from long-range.
City were back in the groove and they struck again in the 49th minute when Jesus seized on Kamara’s mistake and was brought down by Foster.
Jesus picked himself up to take the spot-kick and slotted past Foster to complete his treble.
The 25-year-old wasn’t finished yet and he netted for the fourth time after 53 minutes.
Jack Grealish, Jesus and De Bruyne combined in a blur of passes that left Watford bewildered before the Brazilian capped the flowing move with a lethal finish.