Sergio Aguero opened the floodgates with a touch of magic as unbeaten Manchester City thrashed promoted Norwich City 5-1 on Saturday to remain five points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Champions Manchester United beat Aston Villa 1-0 to keep in touch with their “noisy neighbors” and regain the second place they lost earlier in the day to in-form Tottenham Hotspur, 3-0 winners at home to 10-man Bolton Wanderers.
Manchester City have 38 points from 14 matches, with United on 33 and Tottenham 31, but with a game in hand.
Arsenal were the day’s other big scorers, thrashing bottom side Wigan Athletic 4-0 to go fifth on goal difference ahead of Newcastle United, 3-0 losers at home to fourth-placed Chelsea.
Argentine striker Aguero opened City’s scoring at the Etihad Stadium in the 32nd minute, conjuring a sublime 11th league goal of the season while tightly marked deep inside the penalty area.
Samir Nasri added a second in the 51st and Yaya Toure then scored in the 68th before Steve Morison pulled one back nine minutes from time.
There was no holding off the leaders, with substitute Mario Balotelli coming on and making it 4-1 nonchalantly off his shoulder moments later in the 88th. Adam Johnson then completed the rout in added time.
England international Phil Jones scored his first goal for Manchester United in the 20th minute.
United’s win was soured by the loss of Mexican Javier Hernandez to a suspected ankle injury in the 12th minute, while Villa had goalkeeper Shay Given carried off on a stretcher in the 38th with what appeared to be a hamstring problem.
Villa, who replaced Given with Brad Guzan, also lost Jermaine Jenas in the 63rd when the midfielder fell to the ground holding his ankle and without previous contact.
Spurs’ sixth straight league win was made easier by Bolton having defender Gary Cahill sent off after 18 minutes — a red card that surprised Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp as much as Owen Coyle in the opposition dugout.
There was also a controversy over the absence of a red card at St James’ Park, with Chelsea’s David Luiz fortunate in the extreme not to be sent off for felling Newcastle’s Demba Ba on the edge of the area.
“I asked him [the referee] at halftime why he didn’t get sent off, because he was the last man and we were in on goal,” Newcastle manager Alan Pardew told Sky Sports television. “He said to me he didn’t have control of the ball. So I’ll have to look at the rule book on that one. I’m not exactly sure what he means by that. It’s a sending off, simple as that, and it changed the game.”
Frank Lampard had a penalty saved, but Chelsea still celebrated a morale-boosting win after scoring twice in the dying minutes on an emotional afternoon for home fans paying tribute to their late former captain Gary Speed.
Arsenal scored twice in the space of two minutes in the first half and added two more in the second with league top scorer Robin van Persie celebrating his 14th of the campaign so far.
The defeat left Wigan rooted to the bottom of the league, and to add to their woes troubled Blackburn Rovers saw off Swansea City 4-2, with Yakubu Aiyegbeni scoring all the Blackburn goals, including one from the penalty spot.
Queens Park Rangers and West Bromwich Albion drew 1-1.