Manchester United surged into second place in the Premier League with a 3-0 demolition of Newcastle United on Sunday, while Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers suffered another Anfield nightmare as his struggling side were held to a 0-0 draw by Stoke City.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s team closed the gap on leaders Chelsea to four points thanks to first-half goals by Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra, before Tom Cleverley struck with a superb strike after the break.
United, who are above third-placed Manchester City on goal-difference, have lost twice already in the league this season and, with Chelsea winning on Saturday, they could ill-afford another setback at the Sports Direct Arena, where they were beaten 3-0 last season.
Newcastle never had a chance of emulating that result as Manchester United, playing some of their best soccer of the season, raced into a two-goal lead within 15 minutes.
Evans struck first with a powerful header from Wayne Rooney’s corner in the eighth minute and French leftback Evra nodded home from another Rooney corner seven minutes later.
Newcastle were denied a goal when Demba Ba’s effort was kept out by goalkeeper David de Gea, despite claims it crossed the line, while Red Devils midfielder Cleverley ended any hopes of a Newcastle comeback when he curled a brilliant shot into the top corner in the 71st minute.
“They [Manchester United’s players] were focused today. It’s not easy coming to Newcastle — they’re a big, aggressive team. I’m pleased with the result and pleased with the performance,” Ferguson said.
Meanwhile, Rodgers has yet to oversee a Premier League home win in four attempts since taking charge of Liverpool in the close-season and the Reds’ barren run in front of their own supporters has now stretched to six matches in all competitions.
The hosts hit the woodwork three times, but Liverpool were unable to break down Stoke’s stubborn defense and Rodgers’ side remain in 14th place after just one win in their first seven league matches.
Liverpool, whose only home success under Rodgers came in the UEFA Europa League against Gomel of Belarus, are already eight points off the top four and more worryingly for their manager, they lie only three points above the relegation zone.
“I thought the performance was excellent,” Rodgers said. “Stoke are a difficult team to play against. There were a number of young players in the team and we handled it physically. We just needed the final touch in the box to round up some good play.”
At White Hart Lane, Tottenham Hotspur secured their third successive league win, goals from Steven Caulker and Aaron Lennon giving the hosts a 2-0 success against struggling Aston Villa.
After a slow start under new boss Andre Villas-Boas, Spurs have climbed to fifth place and they were always in control against struggling Villa, who slip to 16th position.
Villas-Boas, who ended goalkeeper Brad Friedel’s run of 310 consecutive Premier League starts by selecting recent signing Hugo Lloris, saw defender Caulker break the deadlock in the 58th minute when he deflected in Jermain Defoe’s shot.
England winger Lennon sealed the points with a surging run and a cool finish in the 67th minute.
Southampton defender Jose Fonte headed a late equalizer to salvage a 2-2 draw against Fulham in a dramatic finish at St Mary’s.
Nigel Adkins’ side looked set for their sixth defeat in seven league matches this season when Kieran Richardson put Fulham 2-1 ahead with just two minutes to go, but Portuguese centerback Fonte, who had earlier given Saints the lead before a Jos Hooiveld own-goal drew Fulham level, came to the rescue as he popped up at the far post to nod home a free-kick in stoppage-time.
Fonte’s goal lifted Southampton out of the relegation zone at Reading’s expense, while Fulham remain in ninth.