Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez fired Manchester United back to the top of the Premier League on Saturday, as Chelsea served warning that their own title challenge is still alive after the departure of Jose Mourinho.
United’s 4-1 demolition of Middlesbrough at Old Trafford continued a rich vein of form for the champions, who have won eight consecutive matches in the league.
But even they could not match the entertainment value provided by Chelsea in a 6-0 thrashing of high-flying Manchester City.
Unbeaten Arsenal will reclaim top spot on Sunday if they can take at least a point at Liverpool, whose title aspirations could effectively be crushed by defeat at Anfield in the biggest match of the season so far.
United, who went into their Old Trafford encounter having won their last 10 matches in the league and the Champions League, picked up where they left off against Dynamo Kiev in midweek, their Portuguese winger Nani firing them ahead in the third minute with a contender for goal of the season.
Boro equalised three minutes later through French striker Jeremie Aliadiere, but Gareth Southgate’s strugglers were unable to cope with wave after wave of attacks from Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
Rooney’s eighth goal in seven matches for club and country restored the lead in the 33rd minute and Tevez made sure of the points 10 minutes after the break.
Tevez’s second goal, five minutes from time, ensured that United had scored at least four goals in four consecutive games for the first time since 1907.
The performance had Ferguson purring over the potential of the Rooney-Tevez axis. ”They’re fantastic,” the Scot said. ”As they get maturity and develop as experienced players, hopefully we will see a complete partnership.”
Avram Grant took over from Mourinho last month with a mandate to deliver more expansive football and no one would have quibbled about the entertainment value of Saturday’s performance.
”It is important to win with style,” the Israeli coach said after a performance that may have clinched him a new three-year contract.
”I know we cannot do it in every game but I think in modern football, people come to have fun. The way of winning is important and that is something I have believed all my life. I think the fans have enjoyed the last six weeks.”
Michael Essien’s opener was followed by two goals either side of half-time from Didier Drogba, who shows no signs of letting his stated desire to leave London affect his performances for the club.
Joe Cole, Salomon Kalou and Andriy Shevchenko completed a rout that will serve as a reality check for City fans who had begun to believe that, after a breathless start to life under new boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, a place in the Champions League could be within reach.
At the other end of the table, Birmingham emerged victorious from a five-goal thriller with Wigan, who were twice fired ahead by Marcus Bent.
An Olivier Kapo penalty and a Liam Ridgewell strike allowed the Blues to equalise twice before Kapo sealed the points nine minutes from the end.
Trinidad international Kenwyne Jones rescued a point for Sunderland with a goal four minutes from time after Wales midfielder Simon Davies had given Fulham a first-half lead at the Stadium of Light.
Reading continued to defy predictions that they would succumb to ”second season syndrome” as a 2-1 win over Newcastle left Steve Coppell’s side well clear of the relegation battle.
Shane Long’s 84th minute strike proved decisive after a Michael Duberry own goal had allowed the Magpies to cancel out a first-half opener from Long’s Ireland compatriot, Dave Kitson.
Portsmouth and West Ham’s meeting at Fratton Park ended in a goalless stalemate after the Hammers’ Robert Green saved a stoppage-time penalty from Zimbabwean forward Benjani Mwaruwari. — Sapa-AFP