Manchester United re-established their six-point advantage at the top of the English Premier League by sweeping Sunderland aside 3-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Manchester City had trimmed United’s lead to three points by winning at Newcastle United earlier in the day, but Alex Ferguson’s men reasserted their authority with a convincing display against the Black Cats.
Robin van Persie broke the deadlock in the 16th minute, deftly guiding a shot into the top-left corner after an enterprising run down the left flank from winger Ashley Young.
Tom Cleverley’s fine finish, following a one-two with Michael Carrick, made it 2-0 three minutes later, before van Persie teed up strike partner Wayne Rooney for United’s third just before the hour.
United captain Nemanja Vidic made his return following a long-term knee injury as a second-half substitute and even a 72nd-minute header by Sunderland’s former United striker Fraizer Campbell could not spoil the hosts’ day.
Defending champions City had returned to winning ways earlier on Saturday with a 3-1 victory at Newcastle.
Beaten 3-2 by their cross-town rivals in a fiery Manchester derby last weekend, the champions showed no ill-effects in the early stages at St James’ Park and took the lead in the 10th minute with a beautifully crafted goal.
Stand-in captain Yaya Toure split the home defence with a delicately weighted pass down the inside-right channel and Samir Nasri showed excellent awareness to roll the ball square for Sergio Aguero to tap into an empty net.
Javi Garcia claimed City’s second in the 39th minute with a header from a left-wing corner, although Newcastle full-back Davide Santon made a complete hash of his attempt to clear the ball.
Newcastle hit back six minutes into the second half, Demba Ba beating City goalkeeper Joe Hart to Fabio Coloccini’s hooked cross to head home, but Toure touched in Pablo Zabaleta’s 78th-minute centre to make the points safe.
“The performance against (Manchester) United was fantastic,” said City manager Roberto Mancini.
“We were disappointed by the result but today was difficult because after the defeat against United, we needed to restart quickly.
“We had a very difficult game against Newcastle but I think the guys today were really, really good.
“It could have been six or seven – I don’t know how many chances we missed.”
Queens Park Rangers ended their long wait for victory at the 17th attempt, winning 2-1 at home to Fulham to climb off the foot of the table at the expense of Reading.
Adel Taarabt’s deflected shot broke the deadlock seven minutes after half-time and the mercurial Moroccan then scored a superb second goal in the 68th minute, before Mladen Petric replied for Fulham.
Liverpool were brought down to earth in a 3-1 loss at home to Aston Villa.
The Reds were gunning for a third straight win in the league but Belgian striker Christian Benteke scored twice and set up a goal for Andreas Weimann to lift Paul Lambert’s side three points clear of the bottom three.
Steven Gerrard claimed a consolation for the hosts.
Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals Everton remain fourth after drawing 1-1 at Stoke City.
The visitors went ahead when Ryan Shawcross put through his own goal in the 36th minute but Stoke levelled through Kenwyne Jones and Everton were fortunate not to have Marouane Fellaini sent off for an apparent head-butt on Shawcross.
Norwich City, meanwhile, have now gone 10 games unbeaten in the Premier League after winning 2-1 at home to Wigan Athletic to climb to seventh.
Wes Hoolahan’s 64th-minute header gave Norwich the three points after Anthony Pilkington’s opener for the hosts had been cancelled out by Wigan midfielder Shaun Maloney.