Manchester City jumped out to an early lead and overcame a lackluster stretch in the middle of the match in the friendly but chilly confines of Etihad Stadium to beat slumping Fulham 2-0 on Saturday.
Having only won twice in their last 14 English Premier League fixtures entering this matchup with City, the start could not have been worse for the Cottagers.
Blues striker Edin Dzeko created instant offense for the reigning EPL champions, driving a low shot that was blocked by Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer with a nice diving effort to his right. But attacking midfielder David Silva was at the right place at the right time to pound it home in the second minute.
Manchester City's official Twitter page captured the rebound that Silva stuffed in the net:
It was Silva's first goal in 12 matches.
From there, the Cottagers actually held their own for the rest of the first 45 minutes. A lethargic, uninspired Blues club sauntered to the break after such an explosive start.
Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell, who has been battling through a hamstring injury, had the best scoring chance for his side in the first half. A beautiful cross by Damien Duff was heading to the far post, and Sidwell had a beat on it. Unfortunately for Fulham, it was beautifully defended by Blues fullback Vincent Kompany.
After more uninspiring play from the Blues, Silva suddenly broke free again. After a beautifully redirected ball from Carlos Tevez, Silva slid into the left side of the box to notch his second goal at 69' with a nifty, difficult shot from close range.
Less than a minute later, the Spaniard nearly had himself a hat trick, but the valiant effort rolled just wide of the far post.
This was a big victory for City, even if it wasn't exactly pretty. Blues boss Roberto Mancini will want to see a crisper performance on the attack, especially with regard to passing.
City has struggled to close out matches and notch the three points. They sit in second in the Premier League table, but are still four points behind the leading Manchester United, who plays Tottenham on Sunday.
Meanwhile, it's back to the drawing board for Martin Jol's Lilywhites, as they continue to slump. Fulham's playmakers had ample chances to at least notch an equalizer for the first two-thirds of the match, but couldn't execute passes on a consistent basis to set up quality opportunities.
Here are some player grades for each side in what was a relatively uneventful match save for a few minutes of brilliance from Silva.
David Silva, Manchester City: A+
In a campaign where Silva has struggled to find the net, he lifted his Blues teammates on a day in which they desperately needed it. Top-flight scorer Sergio Aguero returned from a torn hamstring, but subbed in late when the outcome was already decided.
City was coasting for much of the match, seemingly content to let Fulham dominate the ball. Eventually, somebody had to produce. Unquestionably the man of the match, Silva was able to snap his slump in a big way—and in front of the home crowd.
Dimitar Berbatov, Fulham: C-
Not only was he not productive on the pitch, but the former Manchester United standout was frequently yelling at teammates for not properly feeding the ball. There is a fine line between competitiveness and worsening team morale, and Berbatov was definitely leaning toward the latter.
As the club's most talented attacking player, it is not constructive for him to openly vent his frustration in the middle of play, despite the club's nightmarish stretch as of late.
Vincent Kompany, Manchester City: A
The captain and centre-back was thankfully available for this match. As reported by Goal.com's Tom J Doyle, Kompany was able to successfully repeal his three-match suspension for a straight red card after a tackle in last weekend's 2-0 win against Arsenal.
Considering how much the Cottagers dominated possession for much of the afternoon, it was a defensive effort keyed by Kompany that prevented Fulham from getting any significant opportunities. He also created a golden scoring chance off of a corner kick prior to Silva's insurance goal.
Steve Sidwell, Fulham: B
There wasn't much to be proud of on this day for Fulham. However, Sidwell did generate some chances and was a big reason that the Cottagers were able to keep possession.
The problem was that the strikers and wingers did not do their jobs well enough despite holding the ball for so long in Blues territory. Fulham only managed two shots, and neither of them were even on target.