Manchester City were in exhibition mode, winning this 10th Premier League outing of the season with ease. Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez particularly sparkled in a fine team display, their play at times sublime and just too good for Fulham. Pep Guardiola’s side are in admirable form as they approach next weekend’s visit to Manchester United for the derby.
John Stones was retained by Guardiola, meaning no place again for Aymeric Laporte, Phil Foden also missing out and thus extending his spell out of the league XI to six weeks, while Kyle Walker was completely rested. Fulham arrived with their confidence boosted by beating Leicester last time out, though they were still a place above the drop zone.
City were soon ahead, though it could have come even earlier than the fifth minute, Mahrez putting Sterling in only for his shot to be too close to Alphonse Areola, who saved his team. Seconds later the Cottagers did go behind. Jonathan Moss denied a City handball appeal to wave play on and they could thank the referee, as De Bruyne collected and rolled possession to Sterling. This time the finish was true, to Areola’s right.
The visitors’ responded by winning a corner on their right but Harrison Reed’s delivery yielded nothing. City’s high-speed pass game was then evident when Benjamin Mendy flipped the ball to Mahrez, who passed instantly to De Bruyne and his first-time effort was saved at the near angle by Areola.
Parker had his team trying to press from the front, where Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the most advanced midfielder, joined Ademola Lookman and Ivan Cavaleiro, Fulham’s front two. The problem here was obvious: City are so accomplished at moving the ball that they could – and did – attack at will.
Rodri, Ilkay Gündogan, João Cancelo and Mahrez strung one series of passes together that ended with a corner. Nothing came of that but De Bruyne then slipped Mendy in and his rocket of a delivery was repelled for a throw-in. City were not to be denied for long, though.
Cancelo’s pass found Gabriel Jesus, who teed the ball back around the corner to the right-back. The Portuguese roved towards goal and hit a firm pass to the effervescent Sterling. The No 7’s Fred Astaire act had Joachim Andersen lunging and down went the England man; Moss awarded a spot-kick and De Bruyne buried it.
Fulham were overwhelmed yet City’s grip came close to being loosened by the kind of calamity defending that caused Stones to be dropped previously. As he went to pass back to Ederson, the centre-back beat the advancing keeper and nearly rolled the ball into the empty goal, Stones failing to take a look to confirm where the Brazilian was.
Guardiola stamped his feet in anger and Stones wore a haunted expression. Still, City were soon up the other end, a delightful Mahrez chip looping on to Sterling’s foot; his volley required a flying save from Areola.
The half ended with one more Sterling attempt, which ricocheted out for a corner.
Fulham faced a long 45 minutes. Following a brief foray in which yellow shirts flooded City’s half, they were soon back by their own goal, barely scrambling away a Mahrez cross aimed for Jesus. Next, the west London side were bewitched by De Bruyne’s ability to glide in possession, the Belgian doing so then releasing Jesus, who tapped the ball back to the No 17: his left foot hit pinged off the bar.
City were rampant. De Bruyne again shot powerfully with his left foot, though again Areola was up the challenge. Rúben Dias then spooned over a De Bruyne corner as City reached the closing stages still searching for a third. They failed to find one but Guardiola can be delighted with his side.