David Silva sparkled for Manchester City with two goals in a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace that wiped out Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League table on Saturday and added festive spice to the title race.
Manchester United’s pursuit of the table-toppers stalled with a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa — their first dropped points in seven games — as local rivals City came through an encounter with Palace that threatened to turn into a frustrating occasion.
Silva eased an increasingly tense atmosphere at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester when he broke the deadlock shortly after halftime and then put an efficient victory to bed with his second goal soon after. Yaya Toure emphatically smashed home a late third.
The victory for City, who are having to cope without all their main strikers through injury, moved them level on 39 points with Chelsea, who are to visit Stoke City today, igniting a title battle that had looked to be a one-horse parade.
Champions City trailed the Blues by eight points last month, but have cranked into gear heading into the busy festive period, taking 22 points from a possible 24 in their past eight games.
United are seven points adrift and one in front of a West Ham United side who will occupy a coveted top-four spot at Christmas after they beat bottom club Leicester City 2-0 on Saturday.
For Man City’s billionaire owners, who have lavished funds on the team since their takeover, the sight of workhorse midfielder James Milner playing up front on his own in the face of an injury crisis may have prompted quizzical looks.
It seemed a largely fruitless tactic in a first half, when the nearest City came to breaking the deadlock was a scooped effort from Pablo Zabaleta that bobbled wide, but the mounting tension was eased four minutes into the second half.
Zabaleta made a powerful burst into the area and cut the ball back for Silva, whose shot took a big deflection off a Palace defender before looping into the net.
City, who failed to have a shot on target in the first half, then looked a completely different animal and found a second goal 12 minutes later as Silva arrived at the near post to finish sharply with his left foot.
After Palace had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, Toure ensured there would be no more nervy moments with City’s third.
That left City boss Manuel Pellegrini to sing the praises of a team stripped of strikers Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic.
“It was a very good win,” he told BT Sport. “A very good performance. I enjoyed the way the team worked the whole week, to work in a different way without strikers.”
Rivals United had their recent charge halted at Villa Park, where Christian Benteke combined his wrecking ball power with a refined finish, holding off Jonny Evans to curl a stunning shot past David de Gea that gave the hosts the lead after 18 minutes.
United boss Louis van Gaal, who described the result as “very frustrating,” handed striker Radamel Falcao a rare start and was rewarded eight minutes into the second half.
The on-loan Colombian headed home an Ashley Young cross, but Villa held the visitors at bay, despite having Gabriel Agbonlahor sent off with 25 minutes to play.
In other games, Southampton beat Everton 3-0 to end a run of four successive league defeats, while Tottenham Hotspur kept up their pursuit of a top-four spot with a 2-1 home win against Burnley to move above Arsenal, who were to visit Liverpool yesterday.
Queens Park Rangers striker Charlie Austin scored a superb hat-trick as they rallied from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at home to West Bromwich Albion, but second-from-last Hull City’s woes continued with a 1-0 home defeat by Swansea City.
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