Sergio Aguero scored his first Premier League goal since January 2020 as Manchester City extended their lead at the top of the Premier League with a win at struggling Fulham.
The result sees Pep Guardiola’s side move 17 points clear at the summit, with second-placed Manchester United having two games in hand.
For the Cottagers it represents a dent to their survival hopes after they missed the opportunity to move out of the bottom three, which is compounded by the fact they have played more games than both Brighton and Newcastle – the sides directly above them.
It had looked like being a tight affair, with Fulham testing a much-changed City side during a relatively even first period.
However, John Stones tapped in Joao Cancelo’s free-kick two minutes after the break before Gabriel Jesus benefited from some shoddy defending to round home goalkeeper Alphonse Areola for the second.
And with the game under control, Aguero rounded off the scoring with a penalty after Tosin Adarabioyo had fouled Ferran Torres.
City roll on
While Fulham manager Scott Parker chose to begin without a recognised centre-forward, there were also surprises in the City starting XI.
Guardiola elected to field a three-man defence while Jesus and Aguero were deployed in tandem up front for the first time since February 2020.
If it was designed to give a City side missing the creativity of Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan some incisiveness in attack, it did not initially seem to have worked.
A Torres snapshot and Bernardo Silva’s low effort after a jinking run were the highlights of a first-half performance lacking cohesion.
Aguero, the fourth-highest scorer in Premier League history, also had an inauspicious start to the evening, touching the ball on fewer occasions than both goalkeepers in the first half.
But after the break it all changed, as much by good fortune as design.
Cancelo’s curling free-kick saw Stones dart through a static Fulham defence to prod home, before Joachim Andersen’s clearance ricocheted off Ivan Cavaleiro to send Jesus through for a simple second and Aguero had the final word.
“For him goals are everything, Gabriel [Jesus] too,” Guardiola said of Aguero.
“Everybody wants to jump on the bus – he is more than welcome! It was so important his goal – he played 90 minutes for the first time in a long time.”
Fulham architects of their own downfall
Prior to the game Guardiola had spoken glowingly of opposite number Parker, and for the first 45 minutes it was easy to understand why.
Rejuvenated by recent results, including a superb win at champions Liverpool, the Cottagers appeared to have the measure of a side that had won their past six meetings by an aggregate score of 18-0.
Assured in their defensive work, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Harrison Reed, Kenny Tete and Ola Aina all showed up well at the other end of the pitch, although there was a noticeable void at the apex of their attack.
But in just 15 second-half minutes the game was gone, primarily from the sort of errors that Parker and his players have worked hard to eradicate.
Tosin’s failure to react to Cancelo’s free-kick and Andersen’s error for the second goal were particularly out of character for players who have laid the defensive platform for Fulham’s recent improvement.
Another concern for Parker is that his side have now lost five of their past seven Premier League games at Craven Cottage, an issue that needs to be resolved if they are to retain their top-flight status, starting with the visit of Leeds on Friday.
‘We are in a good place’ – what they said
Fulham boss Scott Parker told BBC Match of the Day: “Disappointing. There’s no denying the mistakes we gave away for the goals were sloppy.
“You are playing against a team that in any moment of the game can hurt you. You have to be switched on. That’s probably the deciding factor of the game.
“The season is not going to be defined by a team we have played tonight and the quality they have. Individually, I wanted to leave an imprint and individually we did that. We will dust ourselves down and move on.
“This is the part of the season when trophies are won and rewards are won. It’s the nitty-gritty of it. It’s the defining moment. We understand that. It’s the home stretch for us. We are in a good place and we will continue.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, speaking to BBC Sport: “We knew it [would be difficult]. You just look at Fulham’s last results they don’t concede goals. We do well. In 90 minutes generally we were so solid and, yeah, we won again.
“They defended really well man-to-man. In the right moment we did it and I’m very pleased for all the players and the commitment from the players in the locker room before the game. We travel to Budapest now and prepare for another final before we get ready for the quarter-final of the FA Cup.
“I will arrive well [with a fit squad] in Budapest through rotating. Sometimes the players don’t believe me, I want everyone involved. Sometimes it is difficult but everyone has to make a contribution to win games and we will arrive at the end of the season fighting as best as possible.”
City’s spark against promoted clubs
- Manchester City have won each of their last eight away league games, scoring 22 goals while conceding only three in this run.
- Fulham have lost five of their last seven Premier League games at Craven Cottage (W1 D1), while they have also failed to score in seven of their last nine home league matches.
- Manchester City have won their last seven meetings with Fulham in all competitions by an aggregate score of 21-0. This is now their joint-longest ever run of wins against a single opponent without conceding a goal (also 7 v Wigan between 2010-2013).
- Manchester City have only lost one of their last 36 Premier League meetings with promoted clubs (W28 D7), a 2-3 defeat at Norwich in September 2019.
- This was Fulham’s 20th Premier League defeat under Scott Parker, meaning the Cottagers have now lost 51% of their games under him in the competition (P39 W8 D11 L20).
- Having scored just one goal in his first 170 Premier League appearances, Man City defender John Stones has since netted four in his last 10 games in the competition.
- Gabriel Jesus has been directly involved in 95 goals in his 114 starts in all competitions for Manchester City (73 goals, 22 assists), scoring eight and assisting one more in his last 10 starts.
- Sergio Aguero has ended a run of 13 appearances, 641 minutes of play and 24 shots without scoring in the Premier League for Man City, with his penalty against Fulham his first league goal since January 2020 v Sheff Utd, 417 days ago.
- In their 13 Premier League starts alongside one another for Manchester City, Sergio Aguero (15) and Gabriel Jesus (nine) have scored a combined 24 goals. The Citizens have won 11 and lost none of those 13 league matches when the pair have both been in the starting XI (D2).
Fulham welcome Leeds United to Craven Cottage for their next Premier League game on Friday, 19 March (20:00 GMT).
Manchester City play the home leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Borussia Monchengladbach at the Puskas Arena in Budapest on Tuesday, 16 March (20:00). City then travel to Everton on Saturday, 20 March (17:30) to play in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
- 29Zambo Anguissa
- 18LeminaSubstituted forOnomahat 73′minutes
- 15Loftus-CheekSubstituted forMitrovicat 63′minutes
- 17CavaleiroSubstituted forRobinsonat 80′minutes
- 3Rúben DiasSubstituted forGarcíaat 75′minutes
- 20Bernardo SilvaSubstituted forFernandinhoat 67′minutes
- 9Gabriel Jesus
- 17De Bruyne
- Andre Marriner
Match ends, Fulham 0, Manchester City 3.
Second Half ends, Fulham 0, Manchester City 3.
Sergio Agüero (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Harrison Reed (Fulham).
Attempt blocked. Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by André-Frank Zambo Anguissa.
Corner, Fulham. Conceded by Aymeric Laporte.
Attempt blocked. Josh Onomah (Fulham) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Aleksandar Mitrovic with a through ball.
Substitution, Fulham. Antonee Robinson replaces Ivan Cavaleiro.
Foul by Rodrigo (Manchester City).
Ademola Lookman (Fulham) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Rodrigo (Manchester City).
André-Frank Zambo Anguissa (Fulham) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Substitution, Manchester City. Eric García replaces Rúben Dias.
Substitution, Fulham. Josh Onomah replaces Mario Lemina.
Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Joachim Andersen (Fulham).
Rodrigo (Manchester City) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by André-Frank Zambo Anguissa (Fulham).
Substitution, Manchester City. Fernandinho replaces Bernardo Silva.
Foul by Sergio Agüero (Manchester City).