Holders Manchester City continued their FA Cup defence with a dominant fourth-round victory over Fulham in which they became the first major European team to score 100 goals this season.
Any prospect of the Championship side producing an upset was effectively over after six minutes when defender Tim Ream hauled down Gabriel Jesus in the area and was sent off.
Raheem Sterling and Jesus had missed their previous two penalties, but Ilkay Gundogan avoided making it an unwanted hat-trick when he tucked the ball into the corner from the spot.
City – who made eight changes and started with Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne on the bench – soon took total control as Bernardo Silva added a classy second from the edge of the box.
The Portuguese’s effort meant City brought up their century of goals in 37 games, two more than it took last season.
Jesus added two second-half headers, capitalising on poor Fulham defending, for a side who have averaged five goals per game in home FA Cup matches under Pep Guardiola.
Sixteen points behind leaders Liverpool but 17 points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United, Manchester City’s Premier League fate – and next season’s Champions League spot – seems all but certain.
So the challenge now for Guardiola’s team is to add all three remaining cup competitions to the Community Shield they won in August.
The FA Cup and Carabao Cup holders are well placed to reach the final of the latter competition – they hold a 3-1 advantage over Manchester United with the second leg of their semi-final to come this Wednesday.
And, predictably, they made light work of Fulham to ensure they remain on course for another long run in the FA Cup too.
Angelino, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden could have made the scoreline embarrassing for the visitors in the first half and their wastefulness might have been the one cause for concern for a perfectionist such as Guardiola.
Bernardo Silva’s excellent strike – twisting and turning on the edge of the box before an unerring finish into the bottom corner – was much more like it, though.
Fulham were generous opponents, sticking with their approach of playing out from the back, and Jesus was the second-half beneficiary. First, he headed in after the visitors’ dallied too long and were dispossessed, then he nodded into an open net after keeper Marek Rodak could only parry Phil Foden’s powerful drive.
Man City has enjoyed a favourable series of draws since the start of 2017-18 in the FA Cup, and this latest demolition means their tally from games against Burnley (twice), Cardiff, Wigan, Rotherham, Newport, Swansea, Brighton, Watford, Port Vale and now Fulham stands at 40-6.
There will, of course, be tougher tests to come – not least the prospect of Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 in exactly a month’s time – but Guardiola will have been grateful for the chance to rest so many key players while advancing with such ease.
Fulham is third in the Championship and has improved recently, notably knocking Aston Villa out of the FA Cup in the third round.
But for them, this was like rewinding the clock 12 months to their torrid Premier League campaign, when they conceded 81 goals – at the rate of more than two per game – on the way to relegation.
Ream endured a difficult season in the top flight and it was the USA defender’s rash decision to bring down Jesus – earning him a first red card in more than 300 games in England – which set the course for the defeat at Etihad Stadium.
One of the finest moments in the Cottagers’ history came at this ground in April 2008 when, 2-0 down at the break and mathematically relegated, they fought back to win 3-2 – and went on to survive.
Though the scoreline was the same at the interval this time, there was never a chance of such a recovery here.
Manager Scott Parker, who was without top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic and opted to start with captain Tom Cairney on the bench, wanted his team to play with “big courage and big heart” but the early setback wrecked that plan.
And, in hindsight, he might consider they were too courageous in playing out from the back against City’s high press, as they were repeatedly punished for avoidable mistakes.
Fulham will now turn their attentions back to the Championship promotion race, where they are three points behind second-placed Leeds as they seek an immediate return to the top flight.
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Source – BBC