Liverpool brandished their credentials as potential English Premiership champions with a 6-0 demolition of Derby on Saturday as champions Manchester United continued to recover from their slow start to the season.
Liverpool’s Anfield romp lifted Rafael Benitez’s side to the top of the league for the first time in five years, although only goal difference divides them from Chelsea and Everton, who continued their fine start to the campaign by snatching a last-minute winner at Bolton.
United ruined Sunderland boss Roy Keane’s return to Old Trafford with a 1-0 win, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s men made hard work of compiling their second win from five attempts this season.
The victory, which lifted United into the top six, was only secured by substitute Louis Saha’s near-post header, 19 minutes from time, and Ferguson admitted afterwards that his summer signings were still struggling to gel.
”I think we deserved to win the game, obviously, but it was a long day,” the Scot acknowledged, before paying tribute to the influence of Saha on his comeback from eight months of injury-induced frustration. ”His penetration and speed are great assets to have and we have very much missed him,” he added.
Chelsea can reclaim top spot when they visit Aston Villa on Sunday, which also sees Blackburn entertain Aston Villa and Portsmouth visit Arsenal.
In Saturday’s other action, the pressure on Tottenham boss Martin Jol increased after his side blew 2-0 and 3-1 leads to draw in a six-goal thriller at Fulham.
Michael Owen gave England boss Steve McClaren cause for optimism ahead of next week’s important Euro 2008 qualifier against Israel with a late headed winner for Newcastle at home to Wigan.
There were also wins for Middlesbrough and West Ham, over Birmingham and Reading respectively.
Liverpool boss Benitez was without assistant Paco Ayestaran following the revelation earlier this week that his long-time number two wants to quit the club. But any unrest behind the scenes was papered over by a slick performance from a side missing injured duo Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.
Midfielder Xabi Alonso and £26-million forward Fernando Torres both scored twice while Ryan Babel, with his first goal for the club, and Ukrainian hit man Andriy Voronin also found the net.
Benitez vowed the problems off the field would not have any effect on Liverpool’s push for a first title since 1990. ”We need to keep going and the club is more important than anyone,” said the Spaniard.
Nicolas Anelka celebrated signing a new contract for Bolton with a spectacular goal that looked like earning his side a win at home to Everton, who had gone ahead through Ayegbeni Yakubu’s 11th-minute effort on his debut for his new club.
Everton’s resilience, however, was underlined once again as Joleon Lescott popped up in the final minute to snatch all three points for David Moyes’s side.
Goals from Younes Kaboul and Dimitar Berbatov had put Tottenham in control at Fulham. Clint Dempsey pulled one back for the home side just before the break, but when teenager Gareth Bale scored his first Spurs goal just after the hour mark, Jol looked to have secured some breathing space.
It was not to be: Alexei Smertin reduced the deficit with 13 minutes left and a last-minute overhead kick from Diomansy Kamara looped over the head of Paul Robinson to give the Cottagers a badly needed point.
West Ham exorcised the demons from last season’s 6-0 thrashing at Reading with an accomplished 3-0 win at the Madejski Stadium.
Craig Bellamy paid back another chunk of the £7,5-million it cost to sign him from Liverpool by giving the Hammers a sixth-minute lead and then teed up Matthew Etherington for the first of his two goals.
Reading’s Ireland striker Kevin Doyle had a penalty saved by Robert Green at 2-0.
First-half goals from David Wheater and Stewart Downing saw Middlesbrough ease to a comfortable win over Birmingham. — Sapa-AFP