Within the first few moments of this game the pattern of play was set. City would attack relentlessly and Fulham would be forced to defend – badly. All it took was five minutes to break the deadlock and from that point forward the result was never in doubt.
The performance was one of dominance and restraint, as the team never had to (nor needed to) exert themselves beyond the minimum expected of them. They were helped by an absolutely abysmal display from Fulham, with nobody in black and white being able to perform five yard passes with any kind of consistency.
Yet away games are never a guarantee and a casual, routine victory to put the pressure back on Liverpool was exactly what was needed this afternoon.
Kevin De Bruyne needs plenty of minutes
I’m sure City fans everywhere were delighted to see that De Bruyne was fit enough to start today but it was by no means a vintage performance. That is to be expected though, a succession of injuries have disrupted any chance of settling into a rhythm with the team and it showed today. The usual laser-like accuracy of his passing was nowhere to be seen and even his play off the ball seemed to be out of sync with those around him.
It was by no means a poor performance though and we can take comfort in the fact that his fitness didn’t appear to be an issue. He was just as active off the ball as we have come to expect from him, constantly harassing and disturbing Fulham defenders and midfielders during counter-pressing scenarios.
With two relatively easy fixtures in Cardiff and Brighton coming up, this is the perfect time for De Bruyne to establish himself in the starting lineup and fine tune his passing. I should stress that it does need to happen sooner rather than later, as the dreaded section of the run in is fast approaching.
Bernardo Silva is magic
I honestly don’t think enough praise can be heaped onto Bernardo. Every minute of every game his play is exceptional. I may be slightly exaggerating but it has definitely felt that way this season. Both De Bruyne and David Silva have either been absent or so far below their best that it has been detrimental to the teams performance and somebody needed to step up to fill that creative void.
Bernardo has stepped up and not only filled that void but has dragged us kicking and screaming through games at times. We only have to look back to the most recent game against Swansea to see just how crucial he is for us as he completely took over the game in the second half.
The best thing about it all is that he seemingly loves doing it. There are never complaints and never dips in his effort, which is more than can be said for some of the other players in the team. Regardless of opposition, Bernardo is playing at his absolute maximum and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling extremely lucky that we have him tied down for the long term.
If Gündogan leaves, he will be missed
Not everyone is a fan of Ilkay, with a large portion of fan base having been particularly scathing in their assessments of his performances during his time at the club. However, it cannot be denied that he has been instrumental in our success so far this season, especially whilst deputising for Fernandinho at the base of the midfield.
Having a player of his calibre able to step into the side at will and never look out place is something I feel a lot of people overlook. Today was no different, he controlled and managed the tempo of the game exceptionally well without ever making any eye-catching or flashy plays. He may not always set the world on fire when he features but his composure on the ball and his ability to make progressive passes cannot be praised enough – especially when we have had as many injuries as we have this season.
Were he to leave in the summer, I struggle to see anyone that can fill that role of seamlessly switching between the role of an attacking or defensive midfielder. Of course, this could be alleviated by the acquisition of a defensive midfielder in the summer but that isn’t a guarantee, as we all know too well at this point.
If a new contract isn’t on the horizon, I feel that Gündogan is a player whose value won’t be truly appreciated until he’s gone.
The injuries keep on coming
There are few things in football that scare me more than an Agüero injury, especially given how close we are to a potential quadruple. Unfortunately, it seems as if there is a chance he may have suffered one this afternoon as he asked to be substituted early in the second half.
If there’s any consolation, it’s that it did not seem to be anything too serious. The worst case scenario is that he is forced to sit out a couple of games and in all honesty, it would be fine if that happened. Gabriel Jesus is more than good enough to do damage against Cardiff and Brighton and he should be full of confidence after scoring twice for Brazil during the week.
One would have hoped that we would be through the worst of the injuries at this point of the season but it seems as if we may be haunted by knocks and niggles right until the very end. It is yet another stressor added to an already tense run in; I’m sure I won’t be alone in feeling like I’ve aged considerably once the season is over.
The countdown begins…
One down, seven to go.
The checklist to domestic (and European) success can now officially start having games scratched off. As Pep is often keen to repeat – all that matters is trying to win the next game and seeing where that takes us. I’m sure what he will actually be saying to the players is that we must win every game to have a chance at making history.
It will be a long and stressful run in but it is something that we should try to enjoy, whatever the outcome. Few teams ever get a chance as good as this and we should savour the battle to try to and do what so many say is impossible.
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