The scary thought for the rest of the Premier League is that Manchester City weren’t even in their prime. It made no difference. Pep Guardiola experimented and City took a while to find their rhythm, but the contest ended with half an hour to go. Barring an extraordinary collapse, the title is surely yours.
It was brutal on the City’s part once they located the cracks in Fulham’s armor. John Stones started the deluge early in the second half. Gabriel Jesús and Sergio Agüero piled on the pain. City, who have won 23 of their last 24 matches in all competitions, were relentless on and off the ball. Fulham could not compete.
The dominance of the city is amazing. They are 17 points clear of Manchester United after firing Fulham, which crashed to the ground after beating Liverpool last weekend. Scott Parker’s team, which is one of the most uncomfortable teams in the division, remains 18th, behind Brighton on goal difference.
There was an experimental aspect to City’s lineup and they had trouble adjusting to Guardiola’s changes in the first half. Although the league leaders dominated possession early on, they weren’t more fluid in the final third and struggled to create opportunities. It was too slow on the part of City, who lacked pace in the wide areas after omitting Raheem Sterling from the squad for tactical reasons, and Fulham was able to restrain them with surprising ease.
It felt like a case of too many tinkering on the part of Guardiola, who had arguably been too cautious before City’s meeting with Borussia Monchengladbach for a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Given that City have a 2-0 aggregate lead from the first leg, surely they could have started with one of Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne or Riyad Mahrez. Guardiola’s somewhat conservative selection, plus his decision to use a 3-4-3 system, seemed to suit Fulham, who held up well despite seeing little of the ball at half-time.
Fulham, who mostly threatened when he had opportunities to free Ademola Lookman with long balls over the top, deserved credit for standing his ground. Joachim Andersen was a stone in central defense, keeping Sergio Agüero calm, while Tosin Adarabioyo was rarely wrong against his former team. Once again, Fulham seemed like a cohesive unit. Parker has built an impressive squad against all odds and there was much to be admired about the way the hosts worked off possession, maintaining solid form and facing challenges in midfield, with Harrison Reed’s pace of work setting the tone.
The city was frustrated. João Cancelo opened an opening, cutting inside from the right before releasing Ferran Torres, but the Spaniard saw his shot stopped by Alphonse Areola. Bernardo Silva and Agüero also threatened low units. Otherwise, however, City spent too much time playing Fulham.
Guardiola’s concern was that his team seemed more predictable with Aguero making only his ninth appearance in the league this season. Although Agüero is still a great finisher, his contract is running out this summer and there is already a sense that City are moving away from him. With an unusual start, the 32-year-old striker seemed a bit out of place at times: less mobile than his teammates, more predictable in his movements, less able to make an impact on preparation.
Nonetheless, City have found ways to score even when their attack is below average. So it turned out at the beginning of the second half. Cancelo took a free kick from the left and Fulham made his first mistake, trying to risk playing offside. The high line was all over the place and Stones attacked Cancelo’s cross, passing Areola from close range.
Fulham collapsed after the center-back’s fifth goal of the season. City had finally woken up, with Rodri nipping at Areola’s palms from the edge of the area. Fulham was being thrown around and errors increased. After 56 minutes, Ivan Cavaleiro dribbled into danger before sending a loose pass to Andersen, who was hit by Jesus. The City striker was too quick for the Fulham defense and was ruthless after bursting into the goal, circling Areola before shooting into the empty net.
The worst was when Adarabioyo ran into Torres on the right side of the area. Agüero dispatched the penalty with ease. It was his first goal in the league since January 2020.
Fulham was well defeated. His main task was to keep the score low. However, if it’s any consolation, this game won’t decide if they stay awake.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism