Attack from all angles, chances, goals. David Silva. Even the wacky defending. There is very little not to like about Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City. Their ability to out-sling rivals has seen them embraced by the neutral and the general consensus has them down as the best team to watch in England.
And that, by extension, makes them England's best team because nobody really likes defending, apart from Alan Hansen. Approaching the season's halfway point, they are the firm favourites for the title. José Mourinho, the Chelsea manager, expressed his surprise last week that City had not already disappeared over the hills. Prominent among his reasons were their offensive players.
Yet there was a revealing comment from the club's midfielder James Milner, as he prepared to depart Craven Cottage as a goalscoring victor after another helter-skelter game. City had threatened to coast, only to flirt with disaster and then coast again. "We'd like to have games that are a bit more boring if we can … maybe a 1-0 or 2-0," Milner said.
Pellegrini did not accept the criticism of City's defending on Saturday. He argued that Fulham did not have "many chances to score", although this overlooked the two occasions in the first half when Joe Hart, back in goal after an eight-week Premier League absence, needed to save smartly from Adel Taarabt.
"They scored one goal on the counterattack and it is normal when you are attacking for 90 minutes that sometimes the other team can score one goal with a counterattack," Pellegrini said. "We had very bad luck on their second goal. If the other team has four, five, six chances every game then, of course, I would be concerned but that is not the reality."
Nobody was arguing with Pellegrini about the freakish nature of the Fulham equaliser, when Vincent Kompany looked like the kid with the fly-away ball on a windy day. His sliced own goal is guaranteed its place on the end-of-season blooper reel.
But Pellegrini could not so easily dismiss Fulham's first goal, when the home team broke with two men, City's players dawdled back and Taarabt crossed for Kieran Richardson to shoot past Hart. To repeat: City were caught by a two-man counter when 2-0 up. After the own goal, City suffered a wobble and it seemed appropriate to wonder whether a team that could look so open were really champions-in-waiting.
"When you are 2-0 up, you like to see out the job and we did that in the end," Milner said. "Hopefully, we can get a few more clean sheets, which will be more important as the season goes on. We need to work on the mistakes we are making throughout the team. When we are conceding goals, it's not the defence and the goalkeeper, it's the whole team. At the moment we are scoring enough to win games."
Fulham would love to have City's problems. They have enjoyed the upswing in performance that tends to come from replacing a manager but this was still a third defeat in four matches under Rene Meulensteen, to leave them mired in the relegation zone. Their next four league games – Norwich City, Hull City, West Ham and Sunderland – will have plenty to say about their survival prospects.
"They are very, very important games for us," Richardson said. "They're all bottom-half clubs, all winnable. Norwich is a must-win for us on Boxing Day. We're going in the right direction, we're playing some good football but, at the end of the day, we lost. We've got to pick ourselves up."
Pellegrini railed, too, at the perception that City are vulnerable on their travels, pointing out they had won three out of three away from home in the Champions League (including Bayern Munich); two out of two in the League Cup and had taken seven league points from nine. "It's not easy to change the way you are playing from last year to the way we are playing now," Pellegrini said. "Maybe the other teams have more space, so we have to be very careful when we attack not to lose easy balls."
Nobody wants City to change.
Man of the match David Silva (Man City)