Premier league round-up: United open up nine point gap as Liverpool stall Man City
Manchester United benefited from Manchester City’s draw with Liverpool to keep their city rivals at an even greater distance in the table. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are now nine points ahead of their city rivals.
United took care of business, City did not. Last year’s runners-up were the first of the two title contenders to play on Saturday, as they took on Fulham at Craven Cottage. Despite their hosts’ determination and pleasing play, and several clearances off De Gea’s line, the Reds came out as eventual winners, this time through a Wayne Rooney goal ten minutes from time. It was a difficult win at a notoriously difficult away ground for Manchester United, and Ferguson will have been pleased by the clean sheet and the result.
Winning with difficulty is often the hallmark of champions, and United certainly look like champions-elect now as Man City stumbled once again. Mancini’s team never looked in control during their game against Liverpool at the Etihad.
A Dzeko goal against the run of play had looked like giving City a nice cushion for the rest of the game, but Liverpool fought back with creativity and enthusiasm. Daniel Sturridge’s stunning left-foot strike brought the sides level before Steven Gerrard unleashed a typical long-range shot which beat Joe Hart in the 73rd minute. But Liverpool could not hold on as a Pepe Reina mistake and a cute finish from Sergio Aguero allowed Man City to claim a 2-2 draw. It was a promising display from Liverpool, a dour one from the current champions.
The battle for the remaining Champions League spots also hotted up as Chelsea suffered a 3-2 defeat away at a resurgent Newcastle. Rafa Benitez’s tenure looks shaky already as a Moussa Sissoko double and a Gutierrez goal cancelled out Lampard and Mata’s strikes for Chelsea. Newcastle’s French Revolution seems to have started with great momentum as Sissoko was once again an impressive figure in his second game since moving from Toulouse in January.
Chelsea are now only one point ahead of their old manager Villas-Boas’s Tottenham side who fought their way to a difficult 1-0 away win at other Chelsea old boy Steve Clarke’s West Brom. Gareth Bale once again made the difference as his strike was the only thing which separated the two clubs, his goal coming in the 68th minute.
Everton missed a good chance to add pressure to Chelsea and Tottenham as they could only draw at home 3-3 to lowly Aston Villa. Christian Benteke’s double and Agbonlahor’s goal had given Villa a seemingly impregnable 3-1 lead, but shambolic defending, especially at set pieces, cost Lambert’s side a much-needed win with Fellaini scoring in the 93rd minute to bring the sides level.
Inconsistent Arsenal finally produced a solid performance as they won at home against Stoke 1-0, courtesy of a Lukas Podolski deflected strike in the 78th minute. The Gunners are still four points behind Tottenham but they are at least still in contention.
At the other end of the table, Adel Taarabt missed a vital penalty as QPR, with record signing Chris Samba playing a major role, holding off Norwich for a 0-0 draw. Mark Bunn had been harshly judged to have fouled in the box but made amends as he saved Taarabt’s low penalty with a brilliant save.
This draw was especially damaging as Reading and Southampton both gained valuable points to steer away from the relegation zone. A Jimmy Kébé double inspired Reading to a2-1 win against Sunderland, confirming their recent recovery, whilst Southampton earned a creditable draw away at relegation candidates Wigan, with only a late Maloney goal denying them an important win.
But these results have now meant that QPR are six points away from safety, with even fellow strugglers Villa and Wigan several points ahead and closer to Reading and Southampton.
With only 13 games to go until the end of the season, many teams are now entering the stages of their campaign where every point matters. Expect many more twists and turns before both title and relegation are decided.
Baptiste Reynaud, Sports correspondent