Never mind just the title – can anyone really stop Man City winning the double in second gear?

Man City strolled to victory at Fulham, helped in no small part by a Josko Gvardiol double  (Getty)
Man City strolled to victory at Fulham, helped in no small part by a Josko Gvardiol double (Getty)

One game closer for Manchester City, one match down as they seek to not just retain the Premier League but end the campaign with a domestic double. The reigning champions, looking for a fourth title in a row, kicked off one point behind Arsenal with a game in hand; they might end the day instead wondering if perhaps they could cruise to both trophies in second gear.

It is usual to suggest after title candidates pick up three points in this manner, where they dominate entirely and their hosts barely raise a hand in protest, that they will have more difficult tests ahead. Yet this time, will that really be true?

City have two league fixtures left to play and an FA Cup final. In order, they play a woefully out-of-form Tottenham who have suffered four straight defeats, then are home to West Ham on the final day, the Hammers being currently without a win in six and having confirmed the impending departure of manager David Moyes. There’s not a whole lot of reasons to suggest they have much to play for.

And at Wembley, sure: it’s Manchester United so it’s a rivalry, a derby and a final for goodness sake, a trophy to play for. But United are truly terrible, have defensive absences to contend with and their only two wins in the last eight have come against rock-bottom Sheffield United and Championship side Coventry, the latter on penalties.

Not that Pep Guardiola will encourage such suggestions, but Man City could easily stroll from here on out and there’s nothing at all that Arsenal, in particular, can do about it.

Yet City can, as another oft-repeated phrase claims, only beat what’s in front of them. This was a chance to put serious pressure on the Gunners ahead of their own trip to Old Trafford on Sunday.

For three or four energetic minutes after kick-off, it looked as though the Cottagers might put it up to City here, might have the tempo and talent in their game to trouble the would-be champions in their last home game of the season. That notion died as soon as an early corner claim didn’t go their way: Marco Silva’s side reverted to their half of the pitch for the ensuing goal kick and barely left it again for the remainder of the first 45.

And so City passed, City pressed, City kept possession. It wasn’t intense; it didn’t need to be. During the week, there had been an amount of discussion over Fulham’s kite-flying antics in training; Josko Gvardiol looked every inch just as carefree and unrestrained as he glided through the home side’s defence to calmly side-foot home the opener inside a quarter of an hour.

It has become commonplace to refer to teams whose seasons have come to an end prematurely as being on the beach, while they waltz through their last irrelevant fixtures. Factor in the kites, the scorching sunshine and the proximity of their stadium to west London’s green areas and Fulham perhaps switched it up to being down the park instead – but the outcome was the same. The effort levels, too.

Gvardiol scores his first after taking on two defenders (EPA)
Gvardiol scores his first after taking on two defenders (EPA)

A handful of Antonee Robinson overlaps aside, they offered next to nothing for far too much of the first half. Joao Palhinha was one of the few to bother with such inconveniences as tackling, closing down or chasing back. One home supporter behind the press box repeatedly implored his side to “stop letting them play”, but offered precious little in the way of solutions as to how to do that. Nor, to be fair, did an increasingly irate Silva on the touchline, at least until he reached the interval and immediately made a double sub.

And yet, for all Fulham’s apparent disinterest in doing much of anything, Man City also appeared to be mostly in cruise control, spurning a handful of chances to increase their lead, most notably through Manuel Akanji’s close-range skyward effort.

Silva’s alterations changed both teams’ focus. Adama Traore suddenly offered an outlet which hadn’t been there previously and twice he escaped down the right, the second time teeing up Rodrigo Muniz to almost equalise. That was enough of a warning sign and City immediately went down the other end and scored, Bernardo Silva’s close control eventually leading to Phil Foden turning in a first-time strike.

Phil Foden celebrates after another goal (AP)
Phil Foden celebrates after another goal (AP)

That was effectively that in terms of deciding the outcome, with Gvardiol sliding in another at the far post before Guardiola cut short the exertions of Mateo Kovacic, Foden, Erling Haaland and the excellent Kevin de Bruyne.

Julian Alvarez then rolled in a penalty which many probably hoped Gvardiol would take to complete his hat-trick, after Issa Diop had committed a foul, received a second yellow and subsequent red card to compound Fulham’s dire day out. An end-of-season lap of appreciation was planned but, as they initially departed the pitch, there were plenty of boos for the team instead.

Victory was not entirely without cost, as City lost Nathan Ake midway through the first half to injury, but this was otherwise as much of a procession as it gets.

And unless one of their remaining three opponents raise their game and find their form fast, City will have another, silverware-laden, procession to look forward to back in Manchester at the end of the month.