Manchester City extended their lead at the top of the Premier League with a victory over struggling Fulham, with Sergio Aguero scoring his first Premier League goal since January 2020.
Pep Guardiola’s side now leads the league by 17 points, with Manchester United in the second position having two games in hand.
It’s a blow to the Cottagers’ survival hopes after they lost out on a chance to climb out of the bottom three, which is intensified by the fact that they’ve played more games than both Brighton and Newcastle, the teams immediately above them.
It seemed to be a close game at first, with Fulham putting a much-changed City side to the test in a reasonably even first half.
However, two minutes after the break, John Stones tapped in Joao Cancelo’s free-kick, before Gabriel Jesus took advantage of some sloppy defending to round home goalkeeper Alphonse Areola for the second.
After Tosin Adarabioyo fouled Ferran Torres, Aguero completed the scoring with a penalty kick with the game under his influence.
Although Fulham manager Scott Parker chose to start without a known center-forward, the City starting XI also included some surprises.
For the first time since February 2020, Guardiola chose to field a three-man defense, with Jesus and Aguero starting together upfront.
If it was intended to provide incisiveness in attack to a City side that lacked the imagination of Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, and Ilkay Gundogan, it did not seem to work at first.
The highlights of a first-half performance that lacked cohesion were a Torres snap and Bernardo Silva’s low effort after a jinking drive.
In the first half, Aguero, the fourth-highest scorer in Premier League history, had an inauspicious start, touching the ball fewer times than both goalkeepers.
But, as much by chance as by design, everything changed after the break.
Stones darted through a static Fulham defense to poke home from Cancelo’s curling free-kick, before Joachim Andersen’s clearance ricocheted off Ivan Cavaleiro to send Jesus through for a simple second and Aguero had the final say.
“Goals are everything to him, and Gabriel [Jesus] as well,” Guardiola said of Aguero.
“Everyone wants to ride the bus, and he is more than welcome to do so! His goal was so vital that he played the entire 90 minutes for the first time in a long time.”