The scary thought for the rest of the Premier League is that Manchester City were not even at their best. It made no difference. Pep Guardiola experimented and City took a while to find their groove but the contest was over with half an hour remaining. Barring an extraordinary collapse, the title is surely theirs.

It was brutal from City once they had located the cracks in Fulham’s armour. Guardiola’s side cruised despite leaving Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gündogan and Riyad Mahrez on the bench and omitting Raheem Sterling from the squad for tactical reasons.

The floodgates opened when John Stones, who has emerged as a surprisingly potent finisher, turned in João Cancelo’s free-kick at the start of the second half and Fulham’s suffering increased when errors gifted goals to Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Agüero, who had not scored in the league since January 2020.

Fulham, who did not have a shot on target, were not allowed to compete. Along with their ruthless finishing, this was a reminder that City’s resurgence is partly down to their improvement without the ball.

Although the leaders fell below expectations in the first half, they still refused to let Fulham leave their half. City’s workrate when they lost possession was impressive. It drained Fulham; frankly, Scott Parker’s side did well to hold out for as long as they did.

With Rodri and Bernardo Silva combining smoothly in central midfield, City were always in control, despite their slow start. Fulham, who remain in 18th place and below Brighton on goal difference, struggled to build any momentum when they had the ball. City, who have won 23 of their last 24 games in all competitions, were relentless and now lie 17 points clear of Manchester United in second place.

“We were confident,” Guardiola said. “The game was really good in a tough stadium. They were in top form. They won at Anfield [last weekend] and concede few chances. It was an important, brilliant victory. Eight games left in the Premier League. Now we focus on the Champions League.”

Although City are 2-0 up going into Tuesday’s second leg of their last-16 Champions League tie against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Guardiola decided to rotate. The visitors lined up in a 3-4-3 system and they struggled to adjust to the changes at first. City’s passing was slow and although Ferran Torres forced Alphonse Areola to make a good save in the 17th minute, there were few scares for Fulham during the opening period.

The concern for Guardiola was that his side looked less of a threat with Agüero making only his ninth appearance in the league this season. Although Agüero remains a great finisher, his contract runs out this summer and there is already a sense of City moving on from the Argentinian. The 32-year-old striker looked slightly out of place at times: less mobile than his team-mates, more predictable in his movement, less capable of making an impact in the build-up.

Yet City have so many ways of scoring these days. So it proved at the start of the second half. Cancelo swung a free-kick in from the left and Fulham made their first mistake, riskily trying to play offside. Their high line was all over the place and Stones, who will surely earn an England recall this week, lost his marker Tosin Adarabioyo before bundling past Areola from close range.

City stirred after the centre-back’s fifth goal of the season, Rodri stinging Areola’s palms. Fulham were being given the runaround and the errors mounted. After 56 minutes Ivan Cavaleiro dribbled into danger before playing Joachim Andersen into trouble. The centre-back’s clearance hit Cavaleiro and rebounded to Jesus, who rounded Areola before firing into the empty net.

Worse was to follow when Adarabioyo, struggling against his old side, tripped Torres on the right of the area. Agüero dispatched the penalty with ease.

“I thought [in the] first-half we took the game to Man City and played very well,” Parker said. “It’s fair to say it was sloppy goals. A set-play goal, which was poor, and two individual errors.”

There was no disgrace in defeat, though. Realistically, Fulham were never going to take anything from this game. “It’s not one to write off,” Parker insisted but he knows that Fulham’s hopes of staying up depend more on whether they can raise themselves when Leeds visit Craven Cottage on Friday.

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