Gran Canaria, the island that raised David Silva, is volcanic but for much of this season their most famous footballing export has been dormant.
There seemed no reason why this graceful midfielder should have seen his touch abandon him, however temporarily. He had played far more of a role in Spain’s retention of their European Championship than he had in their winning of the World Cup. He was returning to a club where he had won the title.
Had that touch not returned, this would have been an afternoon that was memorable only for the cold, a match as featureless as any Siberian tundra.
Technically, Manchester City could have got away without employing a goalkeeper. Fulham mounted one significant attempt on Joe Hart’s goal, a cross that skimmed Steve Sidwell’s head and the outside of the post.
The match was competitive for the opening 95 seconds until Silva struck for the first time. From the viewpoint of Martin Jol, Fulham’s manager, everything about it was sloppy, from midfielder Giorgios Karagounis squandering possession to Mark Schwarzer’s weak save from Edin Dzeko’s long-range shot which allowed Silva to swoop on the rebound.
Jol was asked if he was fearful when his side conceded with fewer than two minutes gone. “Fearful is a good word,” he said. “We were very concerned but scoring early doesn’t always help you and City lost concentration.
“But they had David Silva, who on his day can be the best player in the Premier League, but it was still disappointing we couldn’t score an equaliser to frustrate them.
“I know Vincent Kompany well and he had five or six headers in his own box but they were easy ones because our final ball wasn’t great. Frankly, if you are one down so early, you are your own worst enemy.”
Mostly, the match trundled along without suggesting it would ever rise above the routine. The difference between playing the Manchester clubs on their own grounds is that, defensively, United offer their opponents chances at Old Trafford that seldom come at the Etihad.
In their last four home games – against Reading, Stoke, Watford and now Fulham – the champions rarely looked like conceding. Here, however, City were labouring to score the second that would have made the afternoon safe when Carlos Tevez back-heeled Gaël Clichy’s pass into Silva’s path.
With his markers behind him and Schwarzer attempting to narrow the angle, Silva directed his shot over the goalkeeper’s body and saw it strike the post before trickling in.
Moments later, in a similar move, a hat-trick beckoned but this time, after skipping through the Fulham defence, Silva’s shot went the other side of the post.
That back four did not include John Arne Riise, although Jol denied that the left-back had refused to travel to Manchester. “John is a fantastic boy,” he said. “But I was not happy with him when Stewart Downing scored his first Liverpool goal [in a 4-0 defeat at Anfield last month]. He is not happy about that but he did not refuse to come.”
Dimitar Berbatov might not have bothered. It was too cold and raw for him to be hanging around the goal, though he did throw a tantrum when Bryan Ruiz’s cross failed to pick him out. Berbatov was so irrelevant, the crowd forgot to boo him on the grounds he used to play for United.
The images on City’s electronic scoreboard were considerably more entertaining than much of what was going on underneath.
Before the match, Pablo Zabaleta was shown in a Batman-style sequence – the camp 1960s one with Adam West rather than The Dark Knight. The film showed the Argentinian colliding with opponents to “ker-pows” and “ker-splats”. However, when reality called, he collided with Brede Hangeland and was forced off with a twisted ankle.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta (Nasri, 63), Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy; Garcia, Barry; Milner, Tevez (Aguero, 81), Silva (Lescott, 89); Dzeko.
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Richardson (Briggs, 67); Duff, Sidwell, Karagounis, Dejagah (Petric, 73); Ruiz; Berbatov.
Referee: Jon Moss
Man of the match: Silva (Manchester City)
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content