Manchester City extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to 17 points with a 3-0 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage. Pep Guardiola’s side were not at their best and were poor in the first half but a series of mistakes by the home side allowed them to cruise to victory in the second period.
John Stones opened the scoring in the 47th minute, Gabriel Jesus added the second nine minutes later and Sergio Aguero converted a penalty on the hour after Ferran Torres was fouled by Tosin Adarabioyo. Guardiola made seven changes from the team that beat Southampton on Wednesday but even though they were slightly under par, the away side were always in control. Even in the tepid first half, Fulham did not have a touch in the City area.
Scott Parker looked shocked by his side’s meltdown. The defence, so good for 45 minutes, went to sleep at a free kick and allowed Stones to open the scoring. They had flirted with danger in the first half by playing the ball out from the back and the second and third goals resulted from errors while in possession. Fulham remain in the bottom three. A draw – a legitimate ambition at the break – would have lifted them out of the drop zone.
It took a while for City to establish dominance. More than 17 minutes passed before they created their first chance. Joao Cancelo threaded a pass down the inside right channel into the path of Torres but Alphonse Areola had spotted the danger, narrowed the angle and the goalkeeper was able to stop the shot.
City were seeing more and more of the ball, utilising a back three when in possession. Stones and Aymeric Laporte hugged the touchlines at times and the England defender was eager to join the attack. He showed off his passing range with two fine diagonal balls to Benjamin Mendy but the massed defence repelled the danger.
There was little space to be found in Fulham’s half. Aguero and Jesus were forced to come deep to get involved. Parker’s men tussled for every loose ball, closed down their opponents and blocked the passing lanes. Harrison Reed was City’s main irritant, harassing ballcarriers and dropping in to reinforce the back line when needed. Bernardo Silva tried to break the logjam by dribbling past three defenders into the area but his shot was weak and Areola saved comfortably.
There was space for Fulham to counter and Ola Aina used it to dash 40 yards upfield before offering Ivan Cavaleiro the chance to cross but, like too many of the home side’s offerings around the City box, the ball was aimless.
The away team’s high line and widely-spaced defenders meant that it might have been more profitable for Fulham to try and get the ball forward fast but they continued to play out from the back. They worried City most when they tried to break quickly.
Aguero managed to carve out a chance just before half time, running on to a chested pass from Torres but once again the angle was tight and Areola saved easily.
Parker’s side were comfortable at the break but things went badly wrong in the second period. They conceded an avoidable foul near the touchline. Cancelo curled in a cross and the defence remained static as Stones ran through and put the ball into the net.
Fulham now fell apart. Nine minutes after going behind, Cavaleiro carried the ball across the face of the goal and played a panicky pass back to Joachim Andersen. The centre half, under pressure, had little choice than to try to get the ball out of the danger area. His clearance hit Cavaleiro and the rebound left Jesus in the clear. The Brazilian rounded the goalkeeper and took his time before scoring.
The collapse continued three minutes later. Adarabioyo dithered on the ball and Torres was able to dispossess the defender and advance into the box. Adarabioyo compounded his error by bringing the City striker down. Aguero rammed the penalty home. The game was now far beyond Fulham’s reach.
City did not have to play well to dispatch such reckless opponents. Fulham cannot afford so many lapses in concentration if they want to avoid relegation.
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