If the result was something of a foregone conclusion, the identity of the man whose double took Manchester City closer to a record fourth Premier League title in a row was more of a surprise. Josko Gvardiol looked nothing like a converted centre half when he gave the title favourites the lead with a clinical composed finish after wrongfooting Issa Diop and then popped up at the far post to put the game firmly beyond Fulham. Sandwiched between those two goals was a sweet strike from Phil Foden and, after Diop had conceded a penalty and picked up his second yellow card, substitute Julian Alvarez completed the rout from the penalty spot in second half stoppage time.

Fulham hadn’t been pulled apart, but Marco Silva’s side didn’t look like derailing the City juggernaut either. The Whites were workmanlike and had brief moments of promise after a purposeful start but far more accomplished sides than them have been swatted aside by City since Christmas. The visitors drew the stung from Fulham’s high octane start, with Andreas Pereira and Antonee Robinson posing problems along the left flank, and scored from their first real attack. Gvardiol drove forward with the ball after a series of patient passes, worked a one-two with Kevin de Bruyne, darted inside Diop and stroked a finish of real quality between Bernd Leno and the near post.

Erling Haaland should have made it two three minutes but the Norwegian hooked his shot high into the Hammersmith End having been found by a cute header from Bernardo Silva. Diop twice produced excellent bits of defending to snuff out on the danger when de Bruyne and Silva bore down on goal and City were twice denied by smart Leno saves as the German international thwarted Silva and Foden, but the ex-Arsenal goalkeeper was relieved when Manuel Ankaji managed to miss the target entirely on the stroke of half-time. It seemed easier to score from four yards when the centre back was found by another excellent ball by de Bruyne but the former Bournemouth defender spooned an effort over the bar.

Fulham had enjoyed brief moments of joy, especially down the left flank, but Silva made a pair of half-time substitutes, introducing Adama Traore and Tom Cairney in place of Bobby De Cordova-Reid and Willian. City still asked more of the questions at the start of the second half, with Leno getting fingertips to Silva’s angled drive after the metronomic de Bruyne had picked out the Portuguese midfielder precisely.

Traore had already threatened to wreak havoc down the right flank before he burst down the wing and played in a low cross that was backheeled towards goal from close range by Rodrigo Muinz. The striker’s improvised effort was deflected into the grasp of a relieved Ederson by Rodri’s toe and City quickly made the most of that moment of fortune. Silva skipped away from Antonee Robinson and saw the ball whipped away from him by a peerless challenge from Joao Palhinha only for it to fall perfectly into the path of Phil Foden, who fired in his 25th goal of a superb season from the edge of the box.

Haaland then wasted another glorious opportunity when he went through on Leno’s goal, rifling wildly over the crossbar, but Gvardiol showed the more celebrated finisher how to do it – arriving late at the back post to prod home another devilish delivery from Silva. A VAR check for offside against Akanji failed to rule out the goal – and City were on easy street now. They made it four deep into stoppage time when Diop felled Alvarez in the area and received his marching orders. The substitute sent Leno the wrong way from the spot – and this was routine a victory as Guardiola could have planned.

There’s no shame in struggling against this City side, which Silva rightly acclaimed as one of the greatest in the world game, but the Fulham boss will bristle at the fact that another excellent campaign has floundered in the final furlong – with his side winning only one of their last eight league matches. So much rests on close season recruitment and how substantially Silva is backed if the Cottagers are to continue to thrive under his leadership.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Castagne, A. Robinson, Diop, Bassey; Palhinha, Iwobi; De Cordova-Reid (Cairney 45), Willian (Traore 45), Pereira (Wilson 74); Muniz (Broja 67). Subs (not used): Rodak, Tete, Ream, Reed, Jimenez.


SENT OFF: Diop (90+5).

MANCHESTER CITY (4-2-3-1): Ederson; Akanji, Gvardiol, Dias, Ake (Walker 22); Rodri, Kovacic (Lewis 82); Silva, Foden (Bobb 82), de Bruyne (Doku 75); Haaland (Alavarez 82). Subs (not used): Ortega, Stones, Gomez, Nunes.

GOALS: Gvardiol (13, 71), Foden (59), Alvarez (90+6).

REFEREE: Anthony Taylor (Withington).