There was a time in the recent, chaotic history of Manchester City that had Diego Maradona turned up to watch one of their matches you might have wondered if there was an outside chance they were considering appointing him as manager.
Maradona was at Craven Cottage as a guest of the Fulham owner, Mohamed al-Fayed, and he was a good deal more accommodating than the home side's other guests yesterday. City took Fulham to the cleaners and, in doing so, played for the first time in their travels this season like a team with a power and authority in keeping with their ambition.
They did not look like the unpredictable group of assorted superstars whom even Kolo Touré was moved to suggest yesterday had, at some stages of the season, not "worked hard enough" for their "big wages". Shivering in the cold by the Thames, Maradona would have recognised the vast gulf in quality.
For Mark Hughes this occasion will not have matched his hopes for the day when he finally came face to face with the club that got rid of him; in fact, it could scarcely have been any worse. He was booed off at half-time with his team three goals down with the jeers breaking into chants for Zoltan Gera to be brought into the game.
From the City fans there was no love for their old manager; in fact, they pointedly chanted Roberto Mancini's name, which has become a habit for their away support. It will be the anniversary of Hughes' sacking by City next month and he approaches it with his Fulham team in 17th place and an owner who has sacked struggling managers in the past. Same problems, different end of the table.
Fulham were not even close against a City team who now have the league's top goalscorer in Carlos Tevez, who scored twice yesterday. It was Mancini's same 4-5-1 formation that has proved so frustrating and conservative in the past but the first goal from Tevez settled them down and for long periods of the first half they passed Fulham off the pitch.
Mancini surprised everyone by picking Jo for his first Premier League start in a City shirt since October 2008 on the left side of his midfield. Aside from Tevez, the really sparkling performance in attack came from David Silva, who found space and passes all afternoon that Fulham could do nothing about.
In defence, Vincent Kompany and Kolo Touré were exceptional, although the latter really had to be after taking most of his team-mates to task across three pages of the News of the World. At left-back Aleksandar Kolarov looks like a really decent prospect who should have scored himself when he ran clear on goal in the first half.
The first goal came on six minutes when Tevez turned Carlos Salcido easily on the edge of the area and clipped his shot past Mark Schwarzer. It set the tone for a brutal afternoon for Salcido and it seemed to liberate City.
Against Manchester United at home 11 days ago, City never picked up on the signs that their opposition were vulnerable. Yesterday they seemed to sense Fulham's fragility from the start and pursued their opposition like the uncompromising, elite side that they aspire to be. Hughes' team were very poor at times but it required City to be adventurous to win this game.
City's second goal just after half an hour was a mess of defending by Fulham, Chris Baird being beaten twice by Silva, whose cross was deflected by Damien Duff to Pablo Zabaleta, who whipped his shot into the top corner.
Hughes was brave to play a 4-4-2 formation against Mancini's more conservative line-up because it meant that Fulham were always going to be out-numbered in midfield. In that situation a manager must hope that his two strikers make that advantage count, but Andy Johnson and Clint Dempsey found themselves corralled all afternoon.
Mancini's team went into half-time three ahead with the third arriving at the end of a sequence of 24 passes. The last one was Tevez finding Yaya Touré, deployed as the most advanced of Mancini's midfielders, who ran in the inside right channel where he took the ball and beat Schwarzer at his far post.
Hughes did bring on Gera at half-time for Damien Duff and the Hungarian made a slight difference in the second half, offering Fulham more variation to their attacks they were able to mount. Before the hour, however, Hughes' team found themselves four behind. Tevez was fortunate this time – Zabaleta's shot from the edge of the area. after a poor clearance from Dickson Etuhu, was hit straight at the Argentine and, although his flick did not come off as planned, it was enough to redirect the ball past Schwarzer.
Fulham's one goal of the game was similar – a shot from Gera that Dempsey managed to deflect past Joe Hart, but by then the home support were leaving.
Mancini's team are only three points off Chelsea in first place in a league which, with its wildly varying fortunes this year, is allowing the top sides to make mistakes and still remain in contention.
For one afternoon at least City played as their owners would like them to do and there can be no doubt, as Hughes himself agreed afterwards, that they are title contenders. What is a great deal less certain is which version of Mancini's team will turn up at Stoke City in five days' time.
Substitutes: Fulham Gera (Duff, h-t), Etuhu (Kamara, h-t). Unused Stockdale (gk), Kelly, Pantsil, Dikgacoi, Greening. Manchester City A Johnson (Tevez, 77), Vieira (Barry, 82), Milner (Silva, 89). Unused Given (gk), Boyata, Wright-Phillips, Adebayor.
Booked: Fulham Etuhu, A Johnson Manchester City Zabaleta.
Man of the match Silva. Match rating 7/10.
Possession Fulham 43% Manchester City 57%.
Shots on target Fulham 3 Manchester City 9.
Referee L Mason (Lancashire). Attendance 25,694.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies