Match report and free match highlights as Erling Haaland's 50th goal for Manchester City sets them on their way to narrow victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage; Carlos Vinicius equalises for hosts before Julian Alvarez stunner ensures Pep Guardiola's side move above Arsenal
Monday 1 May 2023 08:31, UK
Manchester City wrestled control of this absorbing Premier League title race as Julian Alvarez's stunning first-half winner ensured Pep Guardiola's side leapfrogged Arsenal at the summit with a hard-fought 2-1 victory against Fulham on Super Sunday.
Fulham boss Marco Silva had labelled City as 'clearly the best team in the Premier League' in the build-up - a clumsy challenge from Tim Ream inside 80 seconds afforded Erling Haaland the chance to bring up a half century of goals this season.
Bernd Leno barely blinked before his spot-kick was dispatched but Carlos Vinicius levelled against the run of play in the 15th minute at Craven Cottage.
Fulham grew into the game but Alvarez, starting in place of the injured Kevin De Bruyne, restored City's lead before the break with a stunning strike in the 36th minute.
If City are to prevail in their quest for this historic treble, they will be required to overcome awkward assignments such as these with Fulham seeing two penalty claims turned down during a fractious second period.
At the final whistle, there was relief for Pep Guardiola as he shared a prolonged hug with Haaland. The result means City move a point above Arsenal at the top for the first time since February 17, with a game in hand against West Ham on Wednesday - live on Sky Sports - while Fulham remain in 10th place on 45 points.
Guardiola said: "We knew the game today would define a lot. Now we have two games at home. Step by step and game by game. The best mentality is to accept our opponent is not going to drop many points. Now we have six games and we know we are closer."
Fulham: Leno (8), Tete (7), Adarabioyo (6), Ream (6), Antonee Robinson (7), Reed (6), Joao Palhinha (7), Wilson (7), Andreas Pereira (6), Reid (6), Vinicius (7).
Subs: Cairney (7), Solomon (n/a), James (n/a), Lukic (n/a), Diop (6).
Fulham: Ederson (6), Walker (7), Dias (6), Akanji (7), Stones (7), Rodri (7), Mahrez (7), Alvarez (9), Gundogan (7), Grealish (8), Haaland (8).
Subs: Phillips, Laporte, Ortega, Bernardo Silva (n/a), Gomez, Perrone, Carson, Foden (n/a), Lewis.
Player of the match: Julian Alvarez.
Before the action, the big news was the absence of De Bruyne. Guardiola said his midfield metronome did not 'feel good' but declined to offer any indication of when he expects the Belgian to return.
It did not derail City from a blistering start. Haaland scored his 50th goal of the season - his 34th in the Premier League - as City took the lead through an early penalty. The Norway striker fired past Leno after Alvarez had been brought down by Ream.
"It's taken Haaland a while to adapt to the Premier League hasn't it?!" crowed Jamie Redknapp in appreciation at the interval. It meant Haaland emulated a record set by Tom 'Pongo' Waring during the 1930/31 season playing for Aston Villa at the top of the English pyramid.
"I know that Winston Churchill was not even Prime Minister the last time the record was set that Erling has equalled. He showed his mentality with his goal," said Guardiola.
From 50 goals to a 50th appearance in England marked in style.
Silva spoke to Sky Sports on Friday about the need for his side to go back to having a target man after playing a false nine at times since Aleksandar Mitrovic's ban, but the roles were inverted for Fulham's well-worked equaliser.
Andreas Pereira's flighted ball into the box was knocked down by Harry Wilson into the path of Vinicius, who sliced across the ball to finish beyond a rooted Ederson.
Jack Grealish's shot was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Leno but City restored their lead in the 36th minute when Alvarez collected Riyad Mahrez's pass, proved too strong for Joao Palhinha, and curled a stunning 25-yard strike into the top corner.
"If you play almost all the games to be world champion with Argentina, it is because he has something unique," Guardiola said afterwards. "It is something in the future to make both he and Kevin [De Bruyne] play. In some games, we will come up against defences with five so this will be important. He has the vision, it is not just about scoring goals."
City almost doubled their advantage within two minutes of the restart. Alvarez was the architect this time as he lost Issa Diop - on for the hospitalised Ream with a broken arm which rules him out for the remaining games - and found Grealish, whose cross was met by Haaland but Leno got down well to tip his low effort wide.
A nasty collision between Pereira and Manuel Akanji led to the Fulham midfielder being carried off on a stretcher, but Tom Cairney came on to carry the fight.
Leno kept the hosts in it as he saved from Alvarez before a flashpoint in the City penalty area drew penalty claims as Ederson smothered at the falling feet of Vinicius. Ederson certainly had not covered himself in glory as he came and did not claim, but referee Simon Hooper was unmoved.
Bobby Decordova-Reid pounced on a poor headed clearance by Akanji to whistle a long-range shot wide. After the 51st minute, City had just one shot on target. Tempers flared briefly between Grealish and Kenny Tete as Fulham felt they should have been given a penalty when Bobby De Cordova-Reid was brought down in the box, but Hooper waved play on.
Credit to Fulham for the way they battled but they were ultimately overpowered by City's blistering start. Is there any stopping them now?
|Goals||Haaland, Alvarez, Vinicius|
|Assists||Alvarez, Mahrez, Wilson|
|Bonus points||Alvarez (3), Vinicius (2), Haaland (2)|
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola: "Definitely [one of the hardest games] and we knew it. All the time, we come from a run of victories as Arsenal didn't drop points and it looked like the target was just beating Arsenal. But when you play that game, you can drop a little bit.
"I didn't see that drop. The grass was dry for both teams so it was difficult to get rhythm but we found our momentum. We defended properly which is the biggest difference from the past. We struggled a little bit but it's normal and my only concern is how we recover.
"We have a lot of games, every three days, and it is normal. Winning games helps us to be faster and we accept the challenge."
When asked if the team needs a leader like Churchill, Guardiola added: "This group of players don't need a leader. They know what they have to do."
Fulham boss Marco Silva: "It's always difficult to take when you get a defeat but the worst thing today was not the result or the performance but the two players who got injured. They both look serious and this is the worst thing we take from the game. Tim Ream has broken his arm and won't play again this season. This is really tough to take.
"We conceded a penalty after the first minute but we showed character and personality to come back and equalise. We had a clear plan for the game, where we were focused on using the central zone and force them wide. We knew this was going to happen but the players stuck to the plan.
"They had to move from building with three to building with four [at the back in the first half], but we cannot concede a second goal the way we did it. We lost the ball in a certain area and it allowed them to counter-attack.
"We didn't create many chances but there were some dangerous moments around the box."
Manchester City forward Julian Alvarez:
"It was a very important win for us today. Every game from here on out is a final. Especially after the win against Arsenal, we'll be able to catch up. We need to keep this going.
"It was really nice to score here, a really important goal at an important point of the match. Really nice to contribute."
On playing with Haaland, Alvarez added: "It's very important to have such a dangerous forward, he's scoring so many goals. It's on the whole team to be able to play throughout the phase as a whole so we need to keep that going."
Sky Sports' Ben Grounds at Craven Cottage:
It was almost like a traditional two-pronged attack. A Son and Kane. A Rooney and a Robin van Persie. Haaland has made it his business to establish a relationship with De Bruyne from the moment he arrived in England.
But on Sunday, step forward Julian Alvarez as the perfect foil to the great Norwegian.
Like De Bruyne, Alvarez has such a superb appreciation of space, of movement, of where and when to angle their runs.
Not far from King's Road, Fulham defenders were rag-dolled around and bulldozed through at times by Haaland but City left London without the ominous impression this will now be a title procession before the coronation. There were two bookings for time-wasting in stoppages for Kyle Walker and for Ederson.
They have only just gone top, and the job is not complete. Of course, a single game can change one's thinking, but there was no huge celebration at the final whistle. Just a confidence and a tunnel vision. The belief must be draining out of those Arsenal players with their feet up in front of the television.
When you have got Haaland's running power and Alvarez's ability to pick a pass, the results are devastating. With De Bruyne missing, things were still so deliciously telepathic when City were good in the opening period.
Unfortunately for the rest of the Premier League, but thankfully for lovers of the game, this connection is only in its infancy.
If City now beat West Ham and Leeds in their next two games, even if Arsenal beat Chelsea on Tuesday, the Gunners will kick off their next game at Newcastle four points adrift. All City need is a blip, and now there is no way back.
Roy Keane once spoke of how he would celebrate success at Manchester United for only a day before training his sights on the next prize. The cold celebration that lingered in the minds of those at Craven Cottage was highly reminiscent of Keane and his fellow treble-winners.
Erling Haaland has now equalled the all-time Premier League goal record of 34 goals in a season, set by Andy Cole and Alan Shearer in 1993/94 and 1994/95, respectively - both achieved nearly 30 years ago in 42-game seasons when the league was comprised of 22 teams.
The 22-year-old still has six league games remaining to extend the record-breaking tally, with his current goal ratio of 1.27 per 90 minutes suggesting he could finish the campaign close to 42.
The towering striker has scored more goals than five Premier League teams: Chelsea, Wolves, Nottingham Forest, Everton and Southampton.
Haaland has also registered four hat-tricks and remains only one shy of equalling Harry Kane's record of five in a single Premier League campaign - despite his last hat-trick coming more than three months ago, against Wolves in January.
In all competitions, the Norway international has now hit the half-century milestone, which sends him level with Vic Watson and Pongo Waring on 50 goals - records set more than 90 years ago. Now, only Dixie's Dean's all-time record of 63 goals from 1927/28 stands in his way.
City could still have 10 games left to play if they overcome Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals to book their place in Istanbul on June 10. Based on Haaland's average goal rate across all competitions, he would surpass Dean's record and finish the season on 64 goals - if he plays every minute and City beat Real across both legs.
Haaland's staggering achievements are made all the more impressive by the fact Golden Boot tallies have been on the wane in recent years, failing to surpass 23 in the previous four seasons.
Mohamed Salah last broke the 30 threshold back in 2017/18 during his inaugural campaign at Anfield, when his 32 goals set a new record for a 38-game season.
Fulham head to Anfield on Wednesday to face Liverpool before taking on Leicester on Monday.
Man City host West Ham on Wednesday as they continue their fight for the Premier League title, live on Sky Sports from 7pm. Pep Guardiola's side only have a few days to rest before taking on Leeds the following Saturday.
May 3: Liverpool (A) - Premier League, kick-off 8pm
May 8: Leicester (H) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm
May 13: Southampton (A) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm
May 20: Crystal Palace (H) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm
May 28: Man Utd (A) - Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm
May 3: West Ham (H) - Premier League, kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports
May 6: Leeds United (H) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm, live on Sky Sports
May 9: Real Madrid (A) - Champions League
May 13: Everton (A) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm
May 17: Real Madrid (H) - Champions League
May 21: Chelsea (H) - Premier League, kick-off 4pm
May 24: Brighton (A) - Premier League, kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports
May 28: Brentford (A) - Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm
June 3: Man Utd (N) - FA Cup final, kick-off 3pm
Another Saturday, another chance to win £250,000 with Super 6. Play for free, entries by 3pm.