Verdict: Fulham 1 Manchester City 4
Goals: Tevez (6 & 56 min), Zabaleta (32 min), Yaya Toure (35 min) for City. Gera (69 min) for Fulham.
Roberto Mancini’s band of happy travellers triumphed again as Carlos Tevez inspired a victory over Mark Hughes. The frustrations of two goalless draws at Eastlands were cast aside as the fans were once again singing their praise of the Italian manager.
Mancini reverted to the three man central midfield of de Jong, Barry and Yaya. It wasn’t particularly defensive with the Ivorian playing high up, almost alongside Tevez.
Pablo Zabaleta made a return at right-back, while the major surprise was seeing Jo make his first Premier League start for the club since October 2008. It would be interesting to know the manager’s thinking for this.
Maybe there was a little psychology in it. Jo was the most ridiculed of signings under the Hughes regime, quickly being shipped off to Everton. The Brazilian was given the chance to show his former manager what he could do.
Tactically it worked for Mancini as Jo added one quality which neither Adam Johnson nor Milner can offer: height. Against Birmingham, Joe Hart’s clearances had floundered on the absence of a target. Here, Jo was able to drift in and win headers to help us retain possession. Yaya also gave us a physical presence to provide a better balance than we had last week.
Arguably the key difference to our performance against Birmingham was the return to full fitness of Tevez. Last week, his shooting was wayward and the performance laboured. Here, he scored after 6 minutes. There was a sharpness about his play as he linked up with the midfield and full-backs throughout.
Speaking of full-backs, the addition of Kolarov is giving a new dimension to our game. Comfortable on the ball, eager to get forward, and possessing a fierce left-foot, he’s looking like the player Wayne Bridge was supposed to be.
There’s a cavalier attitude to his attacking, as shown by his run in the first half as we broke from a Fulham set piece. Without a second thought he was clear of everyone and put in a controlled shot which Schwarzer did well to save.
The more conventional Zabaleta was also keen to get forward, even in the second half when we were primarily closing the game out. The Argentine would only attack so much if under instruction from the manager, and this indicates an attacking ploy by Mancini that was absent in the game against United.
Even Mancini wouldn’t have predicted the reward of the screamer from Zabaleta. When the Argentine scored a goal like that in front of the watching Diego Maradona, Mark Hughes probably knew it wasn’t going to be his day.
Not that Hughes was completely blameless in his side’s defeat. His decision to pair Johnson and Dempsey up front while leaving Etuhu and the 33-year-old Murphy to take on City’s three man midfield was a disastrous one. Kolo and Kompany were rock solid throughout, while our sharp midfield passing enabled total control of the central area in the key phase of the match.
The movement of Silva and Tevez left Fulham gasping, while Jo also linked up well in a disciplined performance on the left flank. The sight of Hughes looking frustrated on the sidelines while his defence conceded relatively soft goals was a familiar one.
If Fulham had defended like Birmingham had, then this could have been a tougher afternoon. They didn’t and City’s ‘plan A’ worked to leave us sitting pretty at the interval.
The midfield took it’s foot off the gas in the second half and some of the passing was sloppy, giving Fulham a greater threat around our penalty area. Once again the defence stood firm, illustrating the biggest difference between the Hughes and Mancini regimes.
Tevez spurned the chance to pass to Jo when clean through on goal and sent a weak shot at Schwarzer. A goal for Jo would probably have completed Hughes’ worst nightmare.
“We set a standard today, can we sustain it? My opinion is that we can, but it will take nothing less than the same commitment for the next game.”
City are currently prospering as the Premier League’s top scorers away from home. The solid defence is enabling us to contain opponents while the extra space provided by attacking home sides is playing into the hands of Tevez and Silva.
It’s a marked contrast to our home form where we struggle to break down deep lying opponents. For this reason, next week’s trip to in-form Stoke is less daunting than it might have been. A repeat performance on another tight away ground could see increased talk of a title challenge.