After 31 minutes the chants started. “Boring,
The chants this time, of course, were ironic. Just moments before Toure’s sumptuous clincher, Pablo Zabaleta had rifled City’s second. If Toure’s was a rare work of beauty, the whole team involved in its construction, Zabaleta’s was a strike of sheer individual genius. Damien Duff’s slightest of deflections was irrelevant. No goalkeeper in the Premiership was ever going to save it.
City 3-0 up with just over half an hour gone? This was not how it was meant to be. Preceding the game, all the talk had been critical of Roberto Mancini’s ingrained tactical conservatism which was stifling the creative talents at his disposal. With a squad of untold riches, surely a little more adventure was to be expected. Ever the opportunist, Manchester City’s previous managerial incumbent Mark Hughes, still clearly disappointed about the way he was treated as City manager, cranked the pressure up. City, he claimed, would be in a better position had they not have sacked him 11 months ago. The 4-1 score line alone was enough to tinge his claims with retrospective embarrassment.
Zabaleta and Toure’s goal of the season candidates were sandwiched between two Carlos Tevez strikes. Ordinarily, mentions of crucial Tevez interventions in games would be followed by concerns about the contribution of his teammates. Against Fulham no such concerns needed to be aired. Even the most ardent of critics could not help but be impressed with the fluidity with which City moved the ball around. For so much of this season, their midfield trident has been accused of erring on the side of caution, offering little in the way of creativity. Yaya Toure broke the lines perfectly, providing a constant driving force between midfield and attack. Gareth Barry, seemingly the new target of England fans’ ire, impressed with an assist for Tevez’s opener.
The three in attack, often so isolated this season, were rejuvenated. For much of this season Tevez has scurried, foraged and plundered manfully. Today he enjoyed working across the line, interchanging positions constantly with Jo and David Silva. Each of the three looked comfortable at the pivot of City’s attack, Jo’s strength and Silva’s subtlety offering tantalising alternatives to Tevez.
The result does not represent a turning point for City. They are, and have been for the duration of this season, contenders for the Premier League title, albeit helped by the inadequacies of all around them. Nor was it an epiphany for Mancini. True, tactical out-manoeuvring at his expense had cost his team a shot at Champions League glory before Jose Mourinho took the job, but he had long since proved his hidden adventurous streak, coaching Lazio to improbably high finishes. What was proven was that City are capable of winning with style. After months of winning with pragmatism, fans and neutrals alike will hope for more of the form shown at Craven Cottage in the months to come.