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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Leroy Sane justifies selection as Manchester City put three past Fulham

In the last two weeks alone, German winger has become a father, been condemned by Toni Kroos and condoned by Thomas Muller, but on the scoresheet after 100 seconds in 3-0 rout of Fulham

Manchester City winger Leroy Sane took just 100 seconds to open the scoring against Fulham at the Etihad Stadium. Reuters
Manchester City winger Leroy Sane took just 100 seconds to open the scoring against Fulham at the Etihad Stadium. Reuters

Manchester City are, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed phrased it in a pre-match letter to fans, “half way up our Everest”. Pep Guardiola’s team duly justified the owner’s comments, by scaling some heights while eyeing greater peaks.

“They showed they are one of the best teams in the world,” said Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic, after his side were swiftly and stylishly seen off. City’s purposeful attitude was summed up when they scored in the second minute of each half. With a pleasing sense of symmetry, both of those goals were tap-ins for wingers.

And yet the ultimate ambition, the Uefa Champions League, formed the backdrop, with Benjamin Mendy rested, Fabian Delph and Nicolas Otamendi granted first starts of the season and Sergio Aguero removed in a precautionary measure.

If the usual predator turned provider before then, playing a part in two other goals, he ceded the limelight to one who has been spoken about more often than he has been seen of late. Leroy Sane’s own rise had been interrupted in a summer when he became bone of contention, cause celebre and odd man out, sideshow but rarely starter.

He was omitted from the German World Cup squad, but spared the ignominy of featuring in their worst global tournament for eight decades. In the last two weeks alone, Sane has become a father, been condemned by Toni Kroos and condoned by Thomas Muller. Guardiola defended him on Friday, selected him on Saturday and saw that choice justified within 100 seconds when Sane made an explosive introduction to his maiden league start of the season. “We never had doubts about Leroy’s quality,” Guardiola said. “I am delighted with his performance.”

His goal was the product of a philosophy. “We make good pressing and they make a mistake,” Guardiola explained. Fulham midfielder Jean Michael Seri almost joined Barcelona last summer, but scarcely illustrated his former suitors’ assurance in possession when he under-hit a pass towards Dennis Odoi. Fernandinho nipped in, raced clear and centred. Sane nonchalantly rolled his shot into the empty net.

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It was an indication that Fulham were architects of their own downfall. Another came when Raheem Sterling hit the bar, the ball flicking up off the inside of goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli’s leg. It was a chance that owed much to the juggling Bernardo Silva, who released the winger, but also to Ryan Sessegnon, the teenage prodigy recalled by Fulham, but chosen at left-back and caught out of position. It was made all the odder as Fulham had two left-backs on the bench.

Sterling nevertheless scored. He had the simplest of finishes after Aguero did a fine impression of a right winger to set him up. “How we started the game and the second half didn’t make it easy for ourselves,” added Jokanovic. “The result is completely fair.”

Those initial impacts in either half sandwiched David Silva’s 50th Premier League goal. It was one milestone on another, the Spaniard’s 350th City appearance. Fulham appealed in vain he had controlled the ball with his arm before finishing via the underside of the bar after Odoi blocked Aguero’s shot.

If one Silva scored, both starred, with Bernardo equally influential. “It is almost impossible to be more pleased as a manager with him,” Guardiola said. A bit-part player in his debut campaign in England has been pivotal. “I don’t forget his behaviour last season,” said the Catalan. “Last season I said if I stay here that this guy will stay here because he is special.”

City played at pace before relaxing in the end, which amounted to an act of clemency. “We create a lot of chances to score five, six or seven goals,” Guardiola said. His side still registered 25 shots and Bettinelli made a series of saves to keep the score down. The persistent Andre Schurrle offered proof of Fulham’s goal threat, but they now have the division’s worst defensive record. “We have conceded 12 goals,” Jokanovic said. “That is not good news.”

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