Dimitar Berbatov scored a hat-trick as Manchester United downed Liverpool 3-2 while Chelsea crushed Blackpool 4-0 to open up a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League on Sunday.
Berbatov sealed victory for United with an 84th-minute winner at Old Trafford after Liverpool had recovered from two goals down thanks to a second-half brace from skipper Steven Gerrard.
The win saw Sir Alex Ferguson’s side go level on points with second-placed Arsenal, but four points behind Chelsea, who maintained their 100% record with a ruthless demolition of Blackpool at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea’s fifth consecutive win was settled in the opening 45 minutes, with Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda (2) putting Carlo Ancelotti’s rampant Blues 4-0 up at the break.
The reigning champions have now rattled in a remarkable 21 goals in only five games and could have had a fifth had they not been denied a certain penalty in injury time after a foul on Drogba.
In the day’s other match, Manchester City moved up to fourth with a 2-0 victory away at Wigan. Skipper Carlos Tevez and Yaya Toure got the goals at a rain-swept DW Stadium as City registered their second win of the campaign.
City boss Roberto Mancini said his summer decision to hand the captaincy to Tevez was reaping dividends after watching the Argentine score before setting up Toure’s first goal in English football.
“I thought about it during the summer and I spoke to Carlos about it,” Mancini said. “He is an important player and he can improve as captain and we can have more of him.”
But the story of the day was at Old Trafford, where Berbatov stole the show with a virtuoso display that left Liverpool shattered and languishing near the foot of the table in 16th position after five games. It left him on top of the goal-scoring charts with six goals from five games this season.
“It was probably my best day in a United shirt,” Berbatov said. “Obviously I am happy. I am going home with a smile on my face. But I am nothing special. I am going home to play with my kids.”
Acres of space
Berbatov put United 1-0 ahead on 42 minutes after being left in acres of space by marker Fernando Torres when Ryan Giggs swung in a corner.
The Bulgarian then doubled United’s lead on 59 minutes with a sublime effort, using one touch to control a Nani cross before sending an overhead kick crashing in off the underside of the Liverpool bar.
Ferguson later hailed the performance of Berbatov, who is enjoying his best run of form for United since his transfer from Tottenham in 2008 in a deal worth £30,75-million.
“There was a lot of criticism of him last season from the media, and it happens when we buy a player for a lot of money and he’s not scoring a hat-trick every game,” Ferguson told Sky Sports. “This season he’s started off in the right fashion, his pre-season training was very good, the pre-season tour was good and he’s carried that on.
“But there’s never been any doubt about the quality of the man. And we saw that again today [Sunday].”
However, for the second league match running, United’s defensive frailties were exposed once more as Ferguson’s men saw a two-goal lead evaporate.
Centre-back Jonny Evans blatantly brought down Torres in the box to allow Gerrard to convert a spot-kick on 64 minutes.
Then, six minutes later, United’s defence was at fault again for Liverpool’s equaliser.
Referee Howard Webb booked John O’Shea for a tackle on Torres that left Gerrard with a free-kick from the edge of the area.
Gerrard’s shot was accurate and hit with power but went straight through a hole in the United wall left by Darren Fletcher, to the disgust of United’s beaten keeper, Edwin van der Sar.
It was the second time in the space of a week that United had let slip a two-goal lead, having been held to a 3-3 at Everton last weekend.
Buoyed by the goals, Liverpool looked capable of taking all three points, but Berbatov’s late header ended their fightback and left Roy Hodgson’s team with only one win from five games.
“I thought our second-half performance was good and we deserved to get back in the game,” Hodgson said. “I think we were a bit unlucky to go two down when we did — and of course to concede late on was tough. Had we had a little bit more composure at the end, maybe we’d have seen the game out.” — AFP