No slip-up, no contest and almost no sweat. Manchester City prepared for Tuesday's trip to Old Trafford with an exercise in ruthless efficiency as Yaya Touré led a rout of Fulham with his first hat-trick in English football. Felix Magath was left incensed at a lack of fight from the Premier League's bottom club. On this form, his men look condemned. Manuel Pellegrini's team look in control.
City's biggest league win since November resembled a training session for the final half hour as they prised apart Fulham without performing close to their fluent, commanding best. Their manager withdrew the outstanding Touré, who now has 20 goals for the season, David Silva and Samir Nasri in the closing stages in readiness for the Manchester derby, the first of two testing away games next week that can shape City's attempt to overhaul Chelsea at the summit, such was their comfort level.
Fernandinho and Martín Demichelis completed the scoring against a Fulham team reduced to 10 men when the hapless Fernando Amorebieta was sent off early in the second half. The range of goals was a perfectly timed illustration of City's power with their leading strikers injured, ill or, in the case of Álvaro Negredo, struggling to finish from three yards.
"At this part of the season it is important to have the balance between scoring and not conceding easy goals. Fulham is a team that defends well but we played well, we were a balanced team and we had patience. Winning is always good preparation for the next game and to win 5-0 is important, but we must forget about this now and move on because a derby is always a special match," said Pellegrini.
Negredo missed a great chance to make it six and impress in the absence of the hamstrung Sergio Agüero and under-the-weather Edin Dzeko, but played a pivotal part in turning the game by winning a soft penalty following a slight touch from Amorebieta.
Magath's team had been comfortable until the 25th minute incident, with City labouring. Once behind, however, Fulham's belief evaporated.
The Spanish forward showed good determination to beat Amorebieta to James Milner's long ball into the box but looked as though he had been slain by an assassin's bullet when he got there. The referee, Jon Moss, was unmoved but his assistant, Ian Hussin, spotted a slight touch on Negredo's backside from the Fulham defender's boot and signalled for a spot-kick. Once the protests had subsided, Touré sent David Stockdale the wrong way from 12 yards.
There was little fluency to the home side yet they could have been three goals ahead by the interval. Not a bad sign when pursuing the title. Amorebieta's one positive contribution was to clear off the line from Silva after he collected Fernandinho's pass, wriggled free inside the area and clipped over the advancing Stockdale. Aleksandar Kolarov also side-footed against the bar from Silva's lay-off down the left.
After the interval, however, the rain stopped, the sun appeared and City cruised towards victory without breaking into a sprint. There may have been doubt over the first penalty decision but Amorebieta gave Moss no alternative but to point to the spot for a second time and dismiss the already-booked Venezuelan when he sent Silva sprawling. The spot-kick routine did not change; Stockdale went low to his left as Touré converted to the goalkeeper's right.
The midfielder completed his hat-trick in stunning fashion shortly afterwards. Nasri played a free-kick square to Touré and, from 25 yards, he curled an exquisite shot beyond the despairing dive of Stockdale. City's fourth also impressed as Milner found Fernandinho with a clever corner and the Brazilian hit an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. The onslaught was not over for the sorry visitors as Demichelis tapped into an open net after Stockdale parried the substitute Stevan Jovetic's shot into his path.
"Until the first penalty it was not bad," said Magath, the Fulham manager. "In my opinion it was not a penalty and it gifts power to City. It was a bad moment for us but that is no reason to stop playing. The team did not seem to believe we could win after the first goal. The penalty changed the whole atmosphere and the players didn't have the confidence to change the situation."