Manchester City test limits of their ability to excite as Fulham become latest victims

Steven Chicken
Manchester City celebrate their win over Fulham
Manchester City saw off Fulham 4-0 at Craven Cottage, because of course they did

Contrary to the rule that everyone loves an underdog story, there is a strand of TV and filmmaking that has come to be known as ‘competency porn’. Fargo and Star Trek are prime examples: seeing Marge Gunderson or the crew of the Enterprise solving the problems in front of them in a capable, unfussy and understated way can be immensely satisfying to watch.

Manchester City are perhaps English football’s greatest ever example of competency porn… if you’re a City fan. For the rest of us, though, it is anathema to enjoyable team sport. There simply isn’t enough tension, enough adversity to overcome, for the outcome to be in doubt.

Manchester City so brilliant it’s almost boring – and they won’t care a bit

Other sides might have struggled with the way Fulham packed the midfield and made it difficult for City to get in through the middle. Other sides might have struggled with the numerous big diagonals out to the left wing Fulham tried in the first half, or with the renewed vigour the half-time introduction Adama Traore brought them on the right after the break.

Not Manchester City. Whatever you try to do to them, they will just do it back to you better. However you try to stop them, they will find another angle, another way, to get through that resistance. And that’s why they are on course to win the Premier League title. Again.

Looking for a rampant attacking left-back, are you? Well, guess what: City have an underlapping left-back in the goalscoring form of his life. Josko Gvardiol has scored just 14 goals in his club career to date, but now five of them have come in his past seven outings.

His decisive, determined work to play off Kevin De Bryune to get into the box put Fulham to shame for being much too tentative, much too inaccurate, when they themselves had got Antonee Robinson into similar positions throughout the first half.

READ MORE: Fulham 0-4 Man City: Arsenal blow as Gvardiol brace helps City brush aside Cottagers with ease

Fulham, if anything, grew much too one-dimensional in those opening 45 minutes, looking for that ball again and again to diminishing effect.

On came Traore to cause different kinds of problems from the right in an attempt to redress the balance in the hosts’ attack; in response, up stepped Bernardo Silva to delightedly spin past his man and drive towards the box. Fulham’s efforts to stop him only squirmed the ball out to Phil Foden to smash in his 12th goal in as many league appearances.

Gvardiol’s narrow-angled poke home off a well-worked set piece routine and Julian Alvarez’s injury time penalty could be a fillip for helping to make up the goal difference, erm, difference on Arsenal, but you sense that City will not need it.

As excellent as Arsenal have been this season, this is yet another one of those years where an extremely worthy title challenger just doesn’t have enough to top Pep Guardiola’s machine.

That’s not to completely discount the possibility of another twist in the title race, but simply a reflection of where expectations now are around this City side. If they do fluff their lines from here, it will be a huge shock; an abrupt interruption of the seemingly inevitable.

City are not perfect. Erling Haaland was, once again, some shade of dreadful, as he tends to be on the days when he is not completely brilliant. His second-half miss after being put through one-on-one with Bernd Leno particularly egregious.

But when they have De Bruyne playing so incisively, Bernardo Silva so sharp in the right moments, Foden not just scoring but putting in a huge shift defensively to make the City counter-press work, City can get away with effectively playing with ten capable men and a set of blond muscles loafing about up front like a competition winner. That’s remarkable, isn’t it?

The thing is that none of it is at all unexpected, to the point that it’s easy to find it quite boring. Much like the TV producers’ and commentators’ apparently ceaseless fascination with Noel Gallagher being among the away fans, seeing it the first time is fun; seeing it again and again can start to wear a bit thin for the neutrals.

But fitting performances and results into a compelling story is purely a construct for outsiders; for the sportspeople themselves, it is all about the winning. There is no obligation to try to make things interesting for anybody else.

If City felt that imperative, Gvardiol would have taken that late penalty to round off his hat-trick; instead he turned down the offer, knowing Alvarez had a better chance of success, and not willing to risk the outside chance that the title race might indeed come down to those matters of goal difference.

If that is the price of almost endless success – along with billions of questionable cash – Manchester City and their fans will not care a bit. It’s not their fault that even antagonists cannot quite do enough to make it interesting.