Fulham 1-4 Manchester City: Mancini gets the better of Hughes as City run riot
City’s superb first half display effectively won the game before half-time.
Mark Hughes chose a 4-4-1-1 / 4-4-2 formation, with Clint Dempsey just behind Andy Johnson. Carlos Salcido returned so Damien Duff moved back into midfield, whilst Chris Baird replaced Stephen Kelly at right-back.
Roberto Mancini moved David Silva to the right, with Jo in for Adam Johnson. Pablo Zabaleta replaced Jerome Boateng, as City continued with their 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 system.
City more positive
City did seem more attack-minded in than in the recent 0-0 draws against Manchester United and Birmingham. The shape was the same as in recent weeks, but it had more of a positive slant to it.
Their first half dominance was all about passing around Fulham. 257 passes to Fulham’s 141 tells the story, and the extra man in midfield was a key feature. Add Tevez and Silva moving into the midfield, and City simply found it much easier to keep the ball – they were compact, passing options were always on, whereas Fulham found it difficult to get the ball from midfield to attack swiftly.
The early goal was key to City’s comfortable performance. It was one simple ball from Barry that found Tevez, Carlos Salcido made a mistake, and Tevez finished well. It was the first goal City had scored in the opening ten minutes of a game this season, and was crucial in the pattern of play, because it meant Fulham had to make the running, and City could sit back.
That is where they are best, and they counter-attack very well. Aleksandr Kolarov should have scored the second in a similar move to Tevez’s goal against Chelsea – a break straight down the centre of the pitch, whilst the second and third goals arrived through Zabaleta and Yaya Toure’s good finishes.
The use of Jo on the left, rather than the more obvious option of Johnson or James Milner, worked well for two reasons. First, because he provided an aerial threat for City. Not in the sense that he got into the penalty box and tried to get on the end of crosses, but because it meant Joe Hart had an option when he had the ball at his feet, and Fulham pressed City’s defenders so he was unable to play the ball to him. The Chalkboard below shows that well – in comparison with last week’s game against Birmingham, where none of Hart’s long balls were successful.
It also meant that when Tevez dropped deep, as he always does, Jo was comfortable at becoming the highest player up the pitch, something City lack when Tevez drifts around and Milner, Johnson or Silva are forced to play that role. In turn, to provide left-sided width, Gareth Barry shuttled out towards that flank, something he did well at the start of the season – but in recent weeks, he seemed to have become more reserved. City were much more fluid.
Fulham poor out of possession
Fulham were not good at pressing when they had the ball. The Hodgson reign has left them with a tendency to sit deep with two banks of four and try and soak up pressure. That’s fine at 0-0, but once you go a goal down (especially as the home side) there’s an onus to try and win the ball back more quickly. City were more than content to simply knock the ball around in midfield and kill the game off, which eventually forced Dickson Etuhu and Danny Murphy higher up the pitch to try and win the ball, but it wasn’t particularly successful.
As we saw in Australia’s heavy defeat to Germany at the World Cup, it’s hard to press a 4-2-3-1 with a 4-4-2, especially if the opposition defence and midfield are comfortable in possession – they’ll simply pass around you. Like in that World Cup game, the midfield got caught too high up the pitch, there was space between the lines for City to work in, and the attacking midfielder, Yaya Toure, was always free. The third goal came when Tevez drifted into the hole and had so much time, then waited, waited, waited for Toure to run forward unmarked, then slipped him in and Toure smashed the ball home.
City had won the game by half-time. Fulham tried to be more attacking, bringing on Zoltan Gera and then switching to a system of three forwards with the introduction of Diomansy Kamara for Etuhu, but City were always in control.
Maybe Mancini will learn from this – he kept broadly the same system, but City were more attack-minded and more fluid, a striker was fielded in one of the wide positions which helped City move up the pitch, Barry drifted to the flank rather than remaining in the centre, whilst Toure played a very direct role. They ended up scoring four goals, which wasn’t an unfair reflection of their dominance.
Fulham were extremely poor. Hughes played a system that didn’t lend itself to the occasion – they were passed around far too easily. This was the oldest starting XI the Premier League has seen so far this season, and Fulham didn’t look like they had the legs to disrupt City’s game.Fulham 1-4 Manchester City: Mancini gets the better of Hughes as City run riot