Fulham 0-4 Manchester City: Gvardiol-inspired City keep the Premier League title in their hands

Manchester City made mincemeat of Fulham to rise to the top of the Premier League, taking Liverpool out of the title race in the process.

Goals from Phil Foden, Julián Álvarez and a brace from Joško Gvardiol led City to all three points against a woefully unimaginative Fulham.

As it happened

While it wasn’t quite vintage City in the first half, the champions did a good job of keeping Fulham’s attackers quiet. That said, the Cottagers started the game as the better side – at least for the first ten minutes or so – but they were limited to the occasional attempted cross from Andreas Pereira and Antonee Robinson. However, neither were able to beat Rubén Dias, who let nothing past him for the whole game.

City started sloppily but quickly found their rhythm, amassing a huge 67% possession in the first half. After no shots in the opening 12 minutes, their first was all they needed to take the lead, and it came from their surprising recent goalscoring revelation.

With three goals in the last two months, Joško Gvardiol has been a more potent figure in the attacking third than any of his defensive teammates this season and, after goals against Real Madrid, Luton and Nottingham Forest, he was keen to bring his talents to Craven Cottage.

It wasn’t a defender’s goal, either. After playing a cute one-two with Kevin De Bruyne, the Croatian slalomed his way into the area, cutting the ball onto his weaker right foot before cooly slotting a finish into the bottom left corner.

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If Fulham hoped to make their mark in the game in the first half, they were disappointed: no shots and only 33% possession rendered the Cottagers bystanders at their own stadium.

As expected, then, the next chance fell to a player in blue and, believe it or not, it was to another defender; as he had done all game, Kevin De Bruyne lofted a wonderful ball into the six-yard box to pick out Manuel Akanji and, despite having five yards of space, the Swiss international could only side-foot a limp volley over the bar. Now that was a defender’s finish.

Not to worry: Gvardiol wasn’t done yet, and he was eager to show his defensive colleague how it’s done.

But, in the meantime, it was Phil Foden who was next to add his name to the scoresheet, latching onto a loose ball after João Palhinha clattered into international teammate Bernardo Silva on the edge of the area. With a swing of the right boot, the boyhood blue smashed his low effort into the bottom left corner. 59 minutes gone: cometh the hour, cometh the… you know the rest.

Now, back to the Gvardiol show. 12 minutes after the Foden goal, Gvardiol made it a brace for himself. This time it was Bernardo Silva to float a ball to the back post. It looked like Akanji would latch onto it, but he wasn’t quite high enough, and out of the blue, Gvardiol slid in to roll it past a helpless Leno. After an offside check, the goal was given, and the left back was on for a surprise hat-trick.

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Fulham managed to have a shot in the second half, with Rodrigo Muniz trying to flick it past Ederson after an Adama Traoré cross, but a scuffed connection saw Ederson easily claim it. That was it for the home side.

The visitors, however, had one more in them. Already on a yellow card, Issa Diop hacked down substitute Julián Álvarez to get himself sent off and give City a penalty and a chance to make it four. As incredible as a Gvardiol hat-trick would’ve been, it wasn’t to be; Álvarez, the man who won it, stepped up and sent Leno the wrong way. The German went left, the ball went right, and the Cityzens had a fourth goal – and that was all she wrote.

For already-safe Fulham there’s nothing detrimental about today’s result, and a trip to Kenilworth Road to face relegation-threatened Luton will be their last game of the season.

For title-chasing City, it’s a different story. The result means they’ll be top of the table at least for tonight, with Arsenal playing rivals Manchester United tomorrow in what is now officially a two-horse race. It’s still, well and truly, all to play for.

The lineups

FUL: Leno; Robinson, Bassey, Diop, Castagne; Palhinha, Iwobi, Willian, Pereira, Decordova-Reid; Muniz

MCI: Ederson, Gvardiol, Aké, Dias, Akanji; Kovačić, Rodri, Foden, De Bruyne, Silva; Haaland