United, City throw weight aroundLONDON - Premier League leaders Manchester United and second-placed Manchester City put former English heavyweights Liverpool and Arsenal firmly in their place on Sunday.
United sealed a needlessly nervy 2-1 home win over eighth-placed Liverpool to maintain their seven-point lead after Robin van Persie’s goal and Patrice Evra’s two assists put rival Luis Suarez in the shade.
In contrast, the game in London was never in doubt with City winning 2-0 for their first league win at Arsenal in 38 years.
City was given a helping hand by the 10th-minute dismissal of Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny for wrestling Edin Dzeko to the ground before James Milner and Dzeko netted before the break.
Liverpool have had to watch with horror over the past two decades as big rivals United undisputedly crowned themselves kings of the English game, trampling the Anfield side’s legacy after they had shone the brightest in the 1970s and 80s.
Dutchman van Persie, English football’s in-form striker along with Liverpool’s Suarez, grabbed a 19th minute opener when he swept in Evra’s cross in inimitable style.
“Robin van Persie is a different class. He produces moments in the game others can’t do and we are glad he is on our side,” Danny Welbeck told Sky.
“We had our game plan and it worked really well in the first half. They came into it more in the second half, but we got the three points and showed our character.”
Forward Welbeck, preferred to the in-form Javier Hernandez in the absence of the injured Wayne Rooney, justified his start with some good play, although he should have done better twice in the first half when almost clean through.
Van Persie, who now has 17 goals as the league’s top scorer, had another chance just before the break as United overran their toothless northwest neighbors, but he oddly chose a cheeky flick which Martin Skrtel cleared just before the line.
In Spain, another goal from Lionel Messi helped Barcelona to a 3-1 victory over Malaga in La Liga as the leaders ended the first half of the season with a record points haul.
An 18th victory in 19 games for Tito Vilanova’s side restored their 11-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid, who earlier secured a 10th win in 10 home matches with a 2-0 success against Real Zaragoza.
Barca’s win also extended their advantage over arch rivals Real Madrid to 18 points after the stuttering champions, mired in third, were held to a 0-0 draw at bottom side Osasuna on Saturday.
Messi scored in his ninth straight game, a personal best and one short of the La Liga record set in the 1996-97 season by former Barca striker Ronaldo.