This was Manchester City’s 19th straight win in domestic cup competition, the holders coasting into the fifth round in a tie that neared a soporific state at times.
Pep Guardiola and his team will not care, of course. They are favourites to reach Wembley once more this week when facing Manchester United here in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg and it may be unwise to bet against them reaching the FA Cup showpiece again, too.
The sole potential off-note came when the manager revealed Aymeric Laporte may not be available for United’s visit. “He has some fatigue,” Guardiola said. “It is normal after four or five months [out]. Right now we are not going to take risks. We will see. If we feel he is not ready, he will not play. If he can play, he can play.”
City’s second strike took them to 100 goals in all competitions, the first team in Europe’s five major leagues to do so.
“Always we score since we are here,” Guardiola said of his four-year tenure at the club. “Always we have the ability to score. The problem is we concede [a] few in some games [this term].”
Within six minutes of kick-off, Fulham had lost Tim Ream. The captain pulled Gabriel Jesus over in the area, Kevin Friend pointed to the spot and showed him a red card: double jeopardy activated as he had not tried to play the ball. Ilkay Gündogan beat Marek Rodak to give City a dream start and a nightmare one for their visitors.
“He’s one of the takers [now],” said Guardiola, City having missed three penalties this season.
Fulham’s manager, Scott Parker, said: “The prep you do goes out of the window after six minutes when you go down to 10 men and they score a goal.”
Riyad Mahrez was next to torment the Cottagers via nifty footwork that ended with him letting fly at Rodak, who saved impressively to his right. Bernardo Silva now got in on the soft-shoe shuffle act, and this time he doubled the lead.
From the edge of the area the Portuguese became a one-man carousel spinning a group of Fulham defenders with him, finally turning a last time inside and leaving Ivan Cavaleiro gawping as he rifled in the sweetest of strikes.
The contest seemed already over – any remaining intrigue concerned how many City might score. Guardiola’s men toyed with their opponents, dialling up quality at will, as when Mahrez glided past Joe Bryan, who chopped the Algerian down. Bryan was lucky not to be booked and when Friend blew for the break Fulham could be heartened by having not conceded again. A measure of the one-way traffic, though, was found in them having had three touches in City’s area. The tally for Guardiola’s men had been near-countless.
They began the second half with another spurned chance. Angeliño traded passes with Phil Foden, then found David Silva inside the area. The captain relayed the ball to Mahrez yet from an inviting angle he blasted high.
It had Guardiola grimacing and Mahrez was replaced early in the half– by Raheem Sterling – because of a “kick” on the Algerian, Guardiola explained.
Against a backdrop more akin to a summer warm-up game, Fulham’s brightest moment arrived via a free-kick in an advanced position. Stefan Johansen floated the ball in but Cavaleiro bumped into Bernardo Silva and though Parker protested Friend adjudged no foul play.
City continued to probe. Nicolás Otamendi rolled the ball to Foden, it went to Gündogan, David Silva and, once more, they could not capitalise.
Then, at last, they did. This was simple and derived from Fulham again trying to play out from the back. Bobby Decordova-Reid was caught out close to goal, the ball went to João Cancelo, and Gabriel Jesus nodded home. Cancelo would end the game limping. “We will see how he recovers in the next days,” said the manager.
Farcically Fulham conceded via precisely the same slipshod manner seconds later. Michael Hector was dispossessed by Jesus in front of Rodak and the subsequent sequence ended with the Brazilian finishing after the keeper beat Foden’s effort out.
Now ended Decordova-Reid’s afternoon, Parker introducing Denis Odoi for him. Yet the manager, really, might have acted more effectively by ordering his team earlier in the half to forget trying to start attacks from the back and so stop City’s high press mugging them.
By the final whistle this was as easy an outing as City could have hoped for. Next up is Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s United.
“Now we have three days to prepare for them,” said Guardiola.