There can be no shame in beaten by this imperious Manchester City side, but given the high standards Slavisa Jokanovic expects of his own team, the Serbian head coach will have been disappointed with how easy the hosts achieved a routine win at the Etihad Stadium this afternoon. Fulham’s fondness for playing out for the back was always likely to invite pressure from such a potent attacking unit and they were up against from the moment a poor touch from Jean-Michael Seri allowed Fernandinho to gallop into the space beyond the visitors back four and hand the returning Leroy Sane a close-range tap in two minutes in.
But for an excellent display from Marcus Bettinelli, Fulham could have been on the receiving end of a cricket score. They did well to keep it to three, although there was the sneaking suspicion that City eased off after Raheem Sterling had added a more convincing gloss to the scoreline early in the second half. The Fulham academy graduate, who won a surprise call up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad last week, made a string of fine saves including two in the space of eight first-half minutes, first spreading himself to deny Sergio Aguero and then brilliantly turning Sterling’s drive onto the crossbar after he had been sent clear by the brilliant Bernado Silva.
Fulham were dangerously close to being swept away by wave after wave of City attacks. Pep Guardiola’s men did double their lead in the 21st minute, however, when Bernado Silva beat Stefan Johansen and drifted dangerously along the by-line. His inviting cross looped up off a Fulham defender and David Silva slammed home off the underside of the bar, with Bettinelli leading unsuccessful appeals for handball against the Spaniard.
The visitors’ commitment to going forward was commendable but they struggled for rhythm and possession as City dominated proceedings. Ryan Sessegnon, who came through a difficult afternoon at left back in credit, did brilliantly to dispossess Bernado Silva and play a forward ball for Luciano Vietto. The on-loan winger ferried the ball on to Andre Schurrle, whose ambitious shot from around 30 yards was always rising and sailed high over Ederson’s bar. The German did draw two excellent saves from the City custodian before the break, though, with the Brazilian beating out a venomous strike before showing great agility to tip over an effort that threatened the top corner.
The greater danger was still be found at the other end. Bettinelli did brilliantly to make himself big and thwart Sane on his near post and then, deep into stoppage time, he somehow stopped a superb run from Sterling with an excellent block when a third goal looked certain. The England international did get on the scoresheet two minutes after half-time, however, applying the simplest of finishes into an empty net from close range after Aguero had tormented Alfie Mawson down the right.
That the scoring ended there was something of a result for Fulham in itself. Denis Odoi bravely blocked a goalbound drive from Bernado Silva, before a brilliant Mawson tackle denied substitute Gabriel Jesus a goal with his first touch. Fernandinho drilled a low strike fractionally wide, before Bernado Silva somehow failed to grab the goal his magnificent display deserved – spooning wastefully over the bar after excellent approach play from Jesus.
The visitors had a strong spell to end the contest. Floyd Ayite made his first appearance since May as a lively substitute and almost marked his return with a goal, but his shot drifted well. The battling Aleksandar Mitrovic went even closer in stoppage time, forcing a brilliant stop from Ederson with a powerful effort from the edge of the box. Guardiola was fulsome in his praise of Fulham’s ambition in his post-match press conference – but in truth Jokanovic’s men were never close to being able to stop the City juggernaut.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Delph (Gündogan 67), Otamendi, Laporte; Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho, David Silva; Sterling (Mahrez 74), Agüero (Gabriel Jesus 54), Sané. Subs (not used): Muric, Stones, Zinchenko, Foden.
GOALS: Sane (2), David Silva (21), Sterling (47).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Christie, R. Sessegnon, Odoi, Mawson; McDonald, Johansen, Seri (Anguissa 56); Schurrle, Vietto (Ayite 69), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Chambers, Le Marchand, Fosu-Mensah, Bryan.
REFEREE: Stuart Attwell (Nuneaton).