LONDON, (Reuters) – Premier League leaders Manchester City and champions Manchester United switched attention back to the action and away from controversies surrounding racism with easy wins yesterday.
City ensured they will be top at Christmas for the first time since 1929 with a 3-0 home win over Stoke City thanks to two goals from Sergio Aguero and one from Adam Johnson.
The performance delighhted boss Roberto Mancini who told the BBC: “We are happy to be top but as I said three days ago it’s important to stay top at the end of the season.
“But for our supporters I think it’s a good Christmas. If we want to win the championship we should get 90 points because Manchester United keep winning.”
United remained two points behind City after thrashing Fulham 5-0 at Craven Cottage, although the victory was not without cost as manager Alex Ferguson explained.
“The performance in the first half was as good as we have played all season, but we’ve got a couple of injuries,” he said
“Phil Jones got an elbow to the jaw and we’ll send him for an X-ray tomorrow. It doesn’t look good. Rio (Ferdinand) will be back for the Blackburn game on New Year’s Eve, Phil is a concern and Ashley (Young) is out for two or three weeks.”
Among United’s scorers was 38-year-old Ryan Giggs who maintained his record of a goal in all 20 seasons since the Premier League began, although his effort just before halftime took a deflection off Fulham defender Philippe Senderos.
“It was very impressive, we’ve not scored as many as we’d like to but we’d been playing well,” Giggs told the BBC.
“The second part of the season we always kick on and put in performances and that’s pleasing. We don’t want to rely on the forwards for goals, we need to share them around.”
Danny Wellbeck, Nani with a rare header, Wayne Rooney with a stunning 30-metre shot and Dimitar Berbatov with a cheeky backheel sent Fulham to their heaviest home defeat for 24 years.
It was Giggs’ first league goal of the season and it came just before Aston Villa’s Marc Albrighton scored the 20,000th since the Premier League started in 1992-93 to cancel out Robin Van Persie’s first-half penalty for Arsenal.
Villa’s relief was short-lived though as Yossi Benayoun struck with an 87th-minute header to give Arsenal a 2-1 win, their eighth in their last 10 league matches. Villa ended the match with 10 men after defender Alan Hutton was sent off after 88 minutes for a second yellow card.
The results lifted City to 44 points from 17 matches with United on 42. Third-placed Tottenham Hotspur (34 points from 15 games) and fourth-placed Chelsea (32 from 17) meet in what should be a tense London derby at White Hart Lane on Thursday.
Skipper John Terry is expected to play for Chelsea despite being told by the Crown Prosecution Service on Wednesday he was being prosecuted for allegedly racially insulting opponent Anton Ferdinand when Chelsea played Queens Park Rangers in October.
Uruguayan Luis Suarez, found guilty on Tuesday and banned for eight matches and fined 40,000 pounds ($62,700) for racially insulting Manchester United’s Patrice Evra in October, was allowed, pending his appeal, to play for Liverpool whose Charlie Adam missed a penalty in a 0-0 draw at Wigan Athletic. Suarez’s lawyer told a news conference in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo that he would be appealing the English FA’s decision meaning he can continue playing until the appeal is eventually heard.
His manager Kenny Dalglish reiterated the club’s total support of him after the match when he told the BBC: “We have always said we will support him and that will continue.
“The fans know he means a great deal to the football club and he has great respect for the fans. There is a great relationship there and that will not be broken.”