United slip as Manchester City top English Premier League table

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Manchester City routed Aston Villa 4-1 to open up a two-point lead at the top of the English Premier League table on Saturday after Manchester United were held to a 1-1 draw at Liverpool.

Roberto Mancini left Edin Dzeko, David Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero out of his starting line-up but City were still too powerful for Villa, one of only four unbeaten sides in the league prior to the match.

Mario Balotelli’s fourth goal in as many games put City head on 28 minutes, the Italian striker hooking in an overhead kick from close range after Villa failed to clear Adam Johnson’s corner. Johnson turned goalscorer for City’s second on 47 minutes before Vincent Kompany made it 3-0 five minutes later.

Stephen Warnock pulled one back for Villa but City made it four through James Milner to leave Mancini’s men brimming with confidence heading into next weekend’s Manchester derby.

In the early kick-off at Anfield, Manchester United came from behind to force a 1-1 draw with Liverpool.

An 81st-minute equaliser from substitute Javier Hernandez salvaged a share of the points for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men after Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard had fired the Merseysiders ahead on 68 minutes.

Ferguson later praised the contribution of goalscorer Hernandez.

“If you see the goal it’s absolutely fantastic. His record of goalscoring is unbelievable. He’s just got that touch,” Ferguson enthused.

Ferguson revealed he had elected to leave Wayne Rooney on the bench after a difficult week which saw the star striker hit with a three-match ban from next year’s Euro 2012 after his recent sending off on England duty.

“He was devastated by the suspension,” Ferguson said. “I just felt all things considered he’d be better starting on the bench.”

Third-placed Chelsea can close the gap on United to one point if they defeat Everton in the late kick-off at Stamford Bridge.

In other games Saturday, Bolton moved off the bottom of the table with a 3-1 win at fellow strugglers Wigan.

Bolton took the lead after four minutes when a Chris Eagles cross picked out Nigel Reo-Coker. Reo-Coker was awarded the goal but replays appeared to indicate Latics defender Gary Caldwell got the final touch.

Mohamed Diame levelled for Wigan five minutes before the interval but Bolton nosed back in front deep into first half stoppage time with a David Ngog strike. Eagles made it 3-1 two minutes into time added on.

Blackburn fought back to snatch a 1-1 draw with Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, but it was not enough to prevent Rovers from slipping to the foot of the standings.

A fluky Heidar Helguson cross-shot handed QPR the lead on 16 minutes but Blackburn struck back quickly with a powerful Christopher Samba to level.

In a battle of the Premier League newcomers, Norwich downed Swansea 3-1 at Carrow Road.

Norwich went 2-0 up after only 10 minutes thanks to Anthony Pilkington and Russell Martin before Danny Graham gave the Swans hope. Pilkington’s second on 63 minutes sealed the points for Norwich however.

Stoke bounced back from defeat against Swansea in their last outing to beat Fulham 2-0 at the Britannia Stadium after goals in the final 10 minutes from Jonathan Walters and Rory Delap.

Sunday’s matches see Arsenal take on Sunderland at the Emirates while Tottenham travel to St James Park to face Newcastle and West Brom face Wolves in the Black Country derby.

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