Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola admitted even he was surprised at how easily the English champions swatted aside Fulham 2-0 at Craven Cottage to climb back on top of the Premier League.
City have now won their last 12 games in all competitions, but their rhythm from a two-week international break was not disrupted as goals from Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero ensured the game was won in the first 27 minutes.
“It was a little bit of a tricky game. International break, 12.30 kick-off, a sunny day which is unusual,” said Guardiola.
“The way we started was amazing. They surprised me again, the first 15-20 minutes was exceptional.
“After that the game was a bit more controlled, they had no clear chances. After the second goal the game was under control.”
Guardiola’s men now lead Liverpool by a point with seven games remaining for both sides, but Jurgen Klopp’s side can retake top spot with victory over third-placed Tottenham on Sunday.
“Every game we have to win if we want to be champions. We have tough opponents, but that is the challenge,” added Guardiola.
Fulham, by contrast, remain 13 points adrift of safety with just 18 left to play for and failed to register a single shot on target at home for the first time in nine years.
“We are realistic,” said Fulham caretaker boss Scott Parker. “The main focus in the last six games is to keep pushing and end the season on a positive in a disappointing campaign.”
City remain on course for an unprecedented quadruple of Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup, which they retained last month.
A potential 14 games now stand between them and history, but there will be far tougher tests in wait than a dispirited and dishevelled Fulham, who played a huge part in their downfall.
Sixty points now separate the sides at opposing ends of the table and the hosts’ inability to play simple passes highlighted why they are set for the drop after just one season back in the top flight.
Aguero had already seen an effort cleared off the line before Silva opened the scoring just five minutes in.
Kevin de Bruyne, on his return from a month-long injury absence, intercepted a loose pass deep inside the Fulham half and fed Aguero, who in turn played the ball to Silva to curl into the far corner on his favoured left foot.
De Bruyne should have scored for just the second time in an injury-plagued Premier League season when he fired too close to Sergio Rico with just the Fulham goalkeeper to beat, while the Spaniard also parried Ilkay Gundogan’s effort from the edge of the box.
A second City goal seemed only a matter of time, though, and again Fulham made it easy for their visitors by coughing up possession close to their own goal.
This time the roles were reversed as Silva slipped in Aguero who expertly found the top corner for his 29th goal of the season.
City were happy to canter through the second period without expending too much energy with eight games in a 25-day period to come in April.
Yet, an otherwise comfortable afternoon may have come at a cost, though, as Aguero appeared to be carrying an injury as he was replaced by Gabriel Jesus just before the hour mark.
“He says he felt something. As a precaution he decided to not continue and hopefully will not be a bit issue,” added Guardiola.
By Kieran Canning
© Agence France-Presse