Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan addressed Manchester City supporters for only the second time since he bought the club 10 years ago this month. “It feels that we are only halfway up our Everest,” the billionaire said as he reflected on the past decade and, spelling out his vision for the future, declared that there was “much more to win”.
For opponents, coming to the Etihad must invariably feel like trying to scale a treacherous mountain in relentlessly suffocating conditions. Fulham became the latest to more or less accept defeat at base camp. Pep Guardiola had said his team would get fully up to speed after the international break and so they are.
Bernardo Silva was the pick of a brilliant bunch, David Silva marked his 350th game for City with his 50th goal in the Premier League and rumours of Leroy Sane’s demise have, evidently, been greatly exaggerated. Restored to the team after recent criticism, the Germany winger capped a memorable week after becoming a father to a baby girl with a goal.
The only slight disappointment for Guardiola was that his side squandered so many chances and Sergio Aguero will require assessment before Wednesday’s Champions League tie against Lyon about being substituted early in the second half with a sore ankle.
“Three-nil is a good result but we created a lot of chances to score five, six, seven goals and we have to be more clinical because the contenders are so tough and the goal difference is important,” the City manager said.
A word or two on the man-on-the-match, Bernardo, first. His touch and quality has never been in doubt but he has now adjusted to the physicality of the Premier League. City’s second goal was a clear case in point.
This time last year, the Portugal playmaker would probably have been knocked over when Stefan Johansen tried to barge him out of the way as they challenged for the ball near the right byeline. But it was Bernardo who won this duel, outmuscling the Fulham midfielder, and then showing awareness to turn and feed Aguero.
The Argentine’s shot was deflected into the path of Silva, who controlled on his chest before rifling home off the bar.
“It is almost impossible to be more pleased as a manager with him,” Guardiola said of Bernardo. “I don’t forget the behaviour he had last season when he didn’t always play. He is a good example to all the others.”
City’s second goal was scored after 22 minutes and already by then there was no way back for Fulham. If you come here you have to at least make yourself competitive. That does not involve playing careless passes deep in your own half less than two minutes in that are just asking to be punished. But that is what Jean Michael Seri did, turning over the ball with a feeble pass intended for Odoi that Fernandinho intercepted. The Brazilian surged forward and squared for Sane – with a clear point to prove after his omission against Newcastle – to tap home.
“Even when he didn’t play we never doubted Leroy’s quality,” Guardiola said. “At his age, sometimes these things happen – a little bit up and down but I’m delighted for his performance.”
Fulham paid the price for backing off and giving fast, skilful players too much time and space. Ryan Sessegnon’s insistence on standing off Raheem Sterling was baffling while his positioning was suspect throughout. Had Sterling not been so wasteful in front of goal, the damage could have been more severe. “This will be a huge learning experience [for Ryan]”, said Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic.
Twice Fulham were indebted to keeper Marcus Bettinelli for shutting out Sterling. The first was a particularly disappointing miss. Bernardo showed outrageous skill to spin away from Seri and Kevin McDonald before releasing Sterling, whose shot was knocked on to the crossbar by the visitors’ No 1.
Ederson, the City goalkeeper, twice denied Andre Schurrle but Fulham were very vulnerable defensively. The second half was only two minutes old when Aguero powered down City’s right, with Sessegnon in no-man’s-land, past Alfie Mawson and squared for Sterling to score from a yard out. This time the England forward could not miss. City oozed control and the only blemish for Bernardo came late on when he blazed over fros Chelsea mustn’t give up hope of upsetting Bayern Munich in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.The Blues have a mountain to ce time under former manager Unai Emery, and looked certain to leave the Emirates in the January transfer window.But Arteta made it clear he considered Ozil to be an important player for Arsenal in his fist press conference as boss, and already appearlimb after being beaten 3-0 by Bayern at Stamford Bridgelon D’Or.The Dutchman was integral to Liverpool’s Champions League final triumph, which included beating Lionel Messi’s Barcelona in the semi-finals. And Barnes thinks van Dijk has done enough this season to be crowned as the world’s best player.Aske on Tuesday.”We have to go to Munich and play withm 10 yards.