The Ped Report City 2-0 Fulham
As with last season, the arrival of the Cottagers to the Etihad brought with it the coldest conditions of the season so far. Although they only sold around 400 of their allocation it was a kind of tribute to those that made the long trip to Manchester that they had bothered, taking into account the current fortunes of each team.
City look once again to be on a roll of systematic victories, whilst Fulham are struggling to bring any kind of positive consistency to their game. And with Mancini sticking with his best available eleven, that is precisely what it looked like once proceedings got under way on a snooker-table of a football field prepared magnificently by the groundstaff.
It took City no time at all to trouble the scoreboard programmers. From the off it was clear that they would take advantage of playing first amongst the title contenders as the gauntlet was thrown down. They pressed from minute one and it was in minute one that the ever-industrious Milner intercepted a poor pass out of the Fulham defence and instantly read Dzeko's run to the edge of the Fulham box. An intelligent run by the ever-industrious Tevez peeled open the back line. The pass was sixpence perfect as indeed was Dzeko's shot which proved too hot for Schwarzer to handle as he handed it onto the unmarked Silva to lift into the corner of the net.
Fulham made a chance of their own where Sidwell couldn't grow enough to convert a free header at the back stick after good work by Duff.
Tevez was a constant thorn in the Fulham side and his hard work across the line set up another chance which Dzeko couldn't convert, Dzeko also headed straight at the keeper from a position where he would normally score. It was somewhat amazing that City got to the break with only a slight advantage. That said, it was probably enough because Berbatov apart Fulham didn't seem to offer much and were struggling to get anything against a focused opponent.
The second half got off to a similar start but for once the solid rock known as Zabaleta came off second in a challenge with Hangeland and despite his efforts to stay on the field, he had to be replaced by Nasri with Milner, without fuss, taking up the role of right back. Zaba suffered ankle damage and quickly headed for the Bridgewater to have the damage assessed. He caught the underside of Hangeland's outstretched boot with the inside of his ankle. It didn't look a foul to me, just unfortunate.
There is a great feeling of strength down City's right when Zaba and Milner play in tandem, so it was down to the more "flojo" exploits of Nasri to keep that side solid. But there were to be no worries. Berbatov seemed to have dropped into midfield where his clever means of protecting the ball and timing his drops to the ground to perfection were never going to cause any problems. They had nothing going on at all up front and their backline was having traumas dealing with a lively City attack.
It was however astonishing that we had to wait until the 69th minute for them to add to and close down the scoring for the day. The accomplished Nastasic played a neat pass to Silva dropping deep. The Magician instantly knew that Clichy had made an overlapping run to the half way line and quickly threaded the ball on to him. Silva then went into overdrive to get ahead of play for the return. Clichy's pass was flicked on ever so slightly by Tevez and into the path of Silva who raced through the inside left channel, drew the keeper and then clipped it into the far corner of the net. Absolute quality!
Seconds later he should have been taking the ball home as Fulham had no answer to his wizardry. Again Nastasic got the ball rolling with a neat pass to Tevez who had spotted Silva's run into the box. His pass left Silva clear with the easiest of his three attempts. This time Schwarzer read the angle and did just enough to force Silva to push the ball wide of the far post when the near post might have been a better option. And Silva knew it.
It was still a mystery how after that Tevez, Milner, Aguero and Dzeko twice all took it upon themselves to decline acceptable chances which would have given the scoreline a more realistic look when matching the attributes of these two teams. 7-0 would really have been more like it.
This was a performance that turned the clock back to last season, but even without Yaya Toure, there seems to be not the disturbance City felt last season. Garcia is coming into his own, although lacking in pace, but Milner is something else, for me a much more accomplished and complete footballer than Nasri, who operates too much on the fringe of things and never in amongst it.
The big-man-little-man attack looks the best bet as on another day Dzeko too would have had to take a match ball home. Tevez, clearly realising his place is under threat, took advantage of Aguero's initial absence and was simply stunning in the work he put in without ever getting the luck his endeavour deserved. Dzeko still commands the attention of 2 defenders and really does open up the channels. Indeed it was he who set up Aguero twice. He could easily have scored thrice.
The back line looked untroubled for most of the afternoon and I believe in Nastasic we could be looking at the next Club Captain here once Vinnie either hangs up his boots or packs them for pastures new. Recognised by Club and Country it will shortly be time for the Stretford Jersey Tugger to move over for a more accomplished individual at centre back for Serbia.
On the corners, Zaba and Clichy were in total control as indeed was Milner when emergency measures were needed. I just hope Zaba's injury doesn't keep him out too long. VK was simply VK. Allowed back in after his ridiculous sending off last week was rescinded, he was the tower of strength which frightened every opposing forward line last season. He looks even more frightening this season now he seems to be fit again, hence the reason, maybe that Berbaflop went "indoors".
It was another exceptional performance from Break and Build Barry, who just gets better and better and is another force in this team that other teams dislike. His timely tackling and simple distribution is probably not emulated anywhere in the Premier League. Yes, there are people like Ramires and maybe Lucas about, but week-in, week-out? There's certainly nobody in the vicinity of M16 (the post code just outside Manchester, not those from Vauxhall Cross) doing anything like the job that Barry does.
With the Stretford misfortunes of yesterday the gap at the top now closes to five points. But as David Platt said, we will not get carried away. We will look at each game in isolation and see where it takes us. And what an excellent philosophy that is. With a resurgent Liverpool and Chelsea popping their heads up like giraffes in the Serengeti, all of City's confidence and concentration needs to come into play over the next month if momentum is to be maintained.
The excitement is still to come, folks. Make sure you read about it in the Ped Report!
all times East Manchester
Sa 26Jan 12h45 Stoke City, Britannia Stadium, FAC4
Tu 29Jan 19h45 QPR, Loftus Road, PL
Su 03Feb 16h00 Liverpool, The Etihad, PL
Sa 09Feb 17h30 Southampton, St Mary's, PL