Erling Haaland scored his 50th goal of the season in converting a third-minute penalty as the visitors established control early on, only for Carlos Vinicius to equalise against the run of play with a quarter of an hour played. Julian Alvarez re-established City’s lead on 34 minutes when firing a superb dipping drive over goalkeeper Bernd Leno from 25 yards but Fulham kept fighting in a competitive second half.
City hung on for a precious victory which takes them to 76 points, one ahead of Arsenal and still with a game in hand.
1. City finally move above Arsenal
The momentum has been with Pep Guardiola’s side for some time and now the Premier League table proves it. City are top of the league for the first time since beating Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Feb. 15. The psychological impact of that could be profound, especially coming in the same week when the Gunners were well beaten in the reverse fixture.
The defending champions weren’t at their best at Craven Cottage. In fact, Fulham may feel they should have earned a point in a battling second-half display as Guardiola’s side struggled to control the game in their customary style.
Yet Ederson was not forced into any meaningful saves and their defence held firm to earn a victory which extends their recent record to 13 wins from their last 14 matches across all competitions — the only blemish was a 1-1 draw at Bayern Munich in a Champions League quarterfinal they were already winning 3-0 from the first leg.
They have clicked into gear at precisely the right time and look extremely difficult to catch in the home stretch.
2. Haaland’s half-century
As City go through the gears in the title race, Haaland continues to surpass individual milestones in what is rapidly becoming one of the most remarkable debut seasons in English football history. There are plenty of stats to choose from, but everyone will have a favourite.
Haaland’s third-minute penalty was his 50th goal of the season, the first player to reach that mark in a single season at an English club since 1931. The half-century is comprised of one EFL Cup goal, three FA Cup goals, 12 Champions League goals and 34 in the Premier League — the most in a 38-game season. Haaland is now tied with Andy Cole (1993-94) and Alan Shearer (1994-95) for the most goals in any Premier League season and it is simply a matter of time before he breaks that record.
It seems almost perverse to suggest this, but Haaland hasn’t even been that efficient of late. He missed a series of glorious chances against Arsenal and could have scored more on Sunday, admittedly in part denied by some fine goalkeeping by Leno. But that is a minor criticism.
Haaland is the most feared forward in the land for a reason; the banner held up in the away end, “Feed the Yorkshire Viking and he will score” is hard to argue with. Dixie Dean’s all-time 63-goal haul is not an impossibility with a maximum of 10 more games to play this season.
3. City adapt without De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne was instrumental in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Arsenal and his absence from the matchday squad through injury here could have been a significant blow for City.
But whereas De Bruyne and Haaland carved Arsenal open down the middle of the pitch in midweek, they switched up their approach with Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish causing Fulham problems on the flanks.
The switch of play to Grealish in particular was always an outlet ball for City in possession, although this wasn’t an afternoon when the England international made the most of those opportunities.
Instead, Alvarez came to the fore in an all-action display which featured a sublime 25-yard strike. The Argentina forward popped up all over the attacking areas of the pitch to help City overload Fulham and his useful contributions continue to exist largely in the shadow of Haaland’s headline act. That said, Guardiola will obviously want De Bruyne back as soon as possible — especially with a Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid to come.
Best and worst performers
Julian Alvarez, Manchester City: Won City’s penalty and scored a superb long-range effort which proved to be the matchwinner.
Erling Haaland, Manchester City: Continues to show real signs of developing his link-up play — he is more than just a finishing machine.
Bernd Leno, Fulham: Made several good saves, perhaps the best from Grealish in the first half and Haaland early in the second, to keep Fulham in the contest.
Tosin Adarabioyo, Fulham: The former Man City youthplayer lost both tackles he attempted, won one of four aerial duels and struggled to cope with Haaland.
Bobby De Cordova-Reid, Fulham: Struggled to make an impact against City’s defence, although had a penalty shout turned down.
Antonee Robinson, Fulham: Unable to cope with Mahrez in the first half and gave the ball away too often, much to the frustration of Fulham fans.
Highlights and notable moments
Haaland’s record-breaking season is rightly taking the attention, but Julian Alvarez reminded everyone of his own quality with a stunning goal that proved to be the winner.
Just STUNNING by Julian Alvarez. 😍
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 30, 2023
After the match: What the managers, players said
Postmatch quotes will appear here…
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Erling Haaland has scored all seven of the penalty kicks he has taken in the Premier League so far this season.
The player with the record for taking the most penalties in the Premier League without missing is former Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, who scored all 11 of the spot kicks he took in the competition.
Haaland equalled the record for most goals in a single Premier League season. His 34th of the campaign drew him level with Alan Shearer and Andy Cole, who both reached the total in 42-game campaigns, when there were 22 teams in the division.
Fulham: Fulham may be on course to finish the season firmly in mid-table, but they will still have a say in the race for Europe and the battle against relegation as they travel to Liverpool on Wednesday before hosting Leicester City on Monday, May 8.
Manchester City: Next up for City is Wednesday’s visit of West Ham United to the Etihad Stadium, before they travel to Elland Road next Saturday to play Leeds United — a team they have scored 14 goals against over their last three meetings.