Riyad Mahrez doubles up as Manchester City sweep Fulham aside in FA Cup

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Due to African Cup of Nations duty for Algeria, Riyad Mahrez was last sighted in Manchester City colours on New Year’s Day when he scored for a fourth consecutive game. On Saturday, he extended the run, via two finishes in a second-half display that sparkled and allowed City to kill off Fulham.

Pep Guardiola was impressed with Mahrez, whose first goal came from the spot. “He has a mentality to score and a special quality.” City’s manager said. “Always he has a feeling like he might score. We struggled a lot in the past years with penalties and now it is a guarantee. Last season we were at Borussia Dortmund, 1-0 down, and he scored a penalty, this season 1-0 against Arsenal, the same: he has the personality to say give me the ball I am going to score.”

Before the break this was an invigorating clash between Guardiola’s team, who top the Premier League, and Marco Silva’s Championship leaders. The latter scored first and though trailing at half-time they were barely behind in the possession percentages, in what had been a controlled display of passing reminiscent of their hosts.

Silva said: “I was really pleased to see the way we played the first half – we started the game like we planned – strong, showing we are here to match them and do our best.”

This is what City do on a serial basis: start like hares whose speed dizzies and overruns the opponent. Yet, as Silva stated, this was Fulham’s trick via an opener that exposed the vulnerability of Guardiola’s side to the counter. Harry Wilson launched a raid along Fulham’s right that took him in behind and with no defender nearby he could stroke over the ball for Fabio Carvalho to enjoy a tap-in, Kyle Walker and John Stones marooned on either side of the midfielder.

Cut to a nonplussed Guardiola slumped in his seat. Then, cut back to the play as City equalised instantly. This had an air of pinball about it, as Phil Foden’s glide into Fulham’s area was followed by Jack Grealish, João Cancelo, and Mahrez all taking touches as possession ricocheted around before Ilkay Gündogan forced home.

John Stones celebrates after putting Manchester City 2-1 ahead.
John Stones celebrates after putting Manchester City 2-1 ahead. Photograph: David Blunsden/Action Plus/REX/Shutterstock

A frantic opening had a third goal in eight minutes when Kevin De Bruyne lifted in a corner from the left and Stones out-jumped Tim Ream to head home. If this was the order as might be expected restored, Silva’s unit did not fall into the role of upstarts reminded of their place. Instead, they played keep-ball, Ream, Joe Bryan, Nathaniel Chalobah and Tosin Adarabioyo all involved in one sequence as the west Londoners sought to construct from the back.

The Cottagers’ composure was reflected in the possession count as the half hour passed. City were ahead, 52.4% to 47.6%: a small margin considering their status as ball-retention experts supreme. Fulham’s passing could be as quick, too, as their hosts: Chalobah, Carvalho and Aleksandar Mitrovic combined in a rat-a-tat move that ended in the latter taking aim. The centre-forward missed but the visitors’ potency had Guardiola prowling the technical area.

His team were in a contest, though the head still said that City might pull away, and, when Grealish, who switched with Foden from No 9 to wide left, danced into the area and let fly, before Cancelo also took aim as a long 45 minutes for Fulham began.

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Grealish’s twinkle-toes next claimed a penalty, his surge towards Paulo Gazzaniga’s goal too dangerous for Bryan to resist a challenge that scythed him down. Mahrez smacked the spot-kick in and City were in cruise-mode. Next, home smiles widened further when De Bruyne, in classic scheming fashion, raced on to a loose Harrison Reed pass, looked up and squared to Mahrez, whose finish made it 4-1.

The Algerian was taken off around 13 minutes from the end, Guardiola greeting him with a warm hug. He deserved this – and the breather – as did City to progress to the fifth round.

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