Premier League Saturday Wrap: Man City, Man United, Norwich Win; Liverpool Slump
The pick of the Premier League fixtures fell on Saturday this week, with Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton and Liverpool all in action.
The early kickoff saw the action started at St James' Park, where Newcastle United welcomed Manchester City in a must-win game for Roberto Mancini and Co. after last week's defeat to the Red Devils.
From there, it was on to the five 3 p.m. (GMT) kickoffs, which saw struggling Aston Villa travel to Anfield where a confident Liverpool side lay in wait. The Reds have only lost once from their previous 11 fixtures, while Villa have only won at Anfield once in their last 10 games.
QPR, in search of their first win of the season, took on Fulham, who usually struggle on the road. Wigan faced the on-form Norwich City, and the least appetising game of the weekend saw Everton face Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.
Meanwhile, Manchester United faced Sunderland, where Martin O'Neill was looking to make history by becoming the first manager to best Sir Alex Ferguson with three different teams.
Read on to find out what happened.
Newcastle United 1-3 Manchester City: City Respond in Best Manner to Loss
Stu Forster/Getty Images
Manchester City responded to last week's defeat to Manchester United in the best way possible by cruising to a 3-1 win over Newcastle United at St James' Park.
Coming into the game, many wondered how City and Roberto Mancini would react following their crucial loss to the Red Devils last weekend. In the end those fears proved unfounded, as the Citizens put in one of their best performances in recent times to win easily.
City have won all 13 Premier League matches where Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez have started together. The duo caused problems for the Magpies right from the start, and as soon as Aguero scored in the 10th minute, the game was as good as over.
The goal was the product of a superb passing move that saw Yaya Toure split the defence and find Samir Nasri in space on the right. The much-maligned Frenchman then cut the ball back intelligently for Aguero as City opened the scoring.
Nasri was electric until he went off injured after a heavy challenge from Davide Santon. The Citizens faithful wanted a big performance from the ex-Arsenal man, and he duly responded. Last weekend he ducked out of the way of Robin van Persie's goal-bound shot, which resulted in City's defeat.
Once City got in control, it was only a matter of time before they doubled the lead. The inevitable second goal came from Javi Garcia after he nodded home a corner just before halftime.
Both City goals were the fault of Santon. On the first he allowed Nasri to run in behind him far too easily, while on the second his effort to clear the ball off the line was simply terrible.
Newcastle scored at the start of the second half when Demba Ba fired in his 11th Premier League goal of the season. The Senegalese striker has been in rare form this term, but his striking partnership with Papiss Cisse has been poor to say the least, and Saturday was no exception.
Tactically, both sides then canceled each other out for long periods as they mirrored each other by utilising 4-4-2 formations.
City, however, always looked the more likely to score, as they possessed a far better calibre of player. As the game entered the final stages, the impressive Pablo Zabaleta crossed to Yaya Toure to score, with the goal effectively killing the match off at the same time.
The win keeps City in touch with Manchester United, while the defeat means that Newcastle will be firmly involved in the relegation dogfight over the Christmas period.
Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa: Benteke Bullies Liverpool
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Aston Villa have pulled off one of the shocking results of the season by beating Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield.
Christian Benteke was the real difference between the two sides, with the giant Belgian international scoring twice while providing the assist for Andreas Weimann in between.
Liverpool, once again, dominated possession but struggled to make an impact on the Villa goal throughout.
In contrast, Villa were a real case of quality over quantity, as they looked like scoring almost every single time they broke into the Red's final third.
Benteke's growing reputation received another boost. The 22-year-old dominated proceedings and the Liverpool backline. Since joining the Villains from Genk in a £7 million deal during the summer, the youth has been nothing less than a revelation.
He has scored 10 goals from 18 games and provides a tough challenge for whoever is unlucky enough to mark him. Against Liverpool he bullied two experienced centre backs in Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel to the extent that they looked like two lost lambs.
Villa, starting with a back three, effectively shut the game down once they took the lead. Prior to Benteke's opening strike, the Reds had found plenty of room behind Villa's wing-backs—but once the goal went in, they dropped deep to make a back five.
Once Paul Lambert employed this simple tactic, Liverpool's game was effectively negated.
From this foundation, Villa then played on the counter with Benteke playing as the lone striker. However, his dominance over the Red's defence meant that every time he received the ball, Villa had a great chance of scoring.
His frequent penetrative runs opened Liverpool's defence like the Red Sea and asked questions of them throughout, to which Brendan Rodgers simply had no answer.
Steven Gerrard's late strike saved some blushes for his team, but by the time his goal had hit the back of the net, many of Liverpool's fans had already left Anfield.
The win will provide a huge boost in confidence for Villa as they head into a Christmas period that will see them play Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Wigan and Swansea.
QPR 2-1 Fulham: First Win of the Season for Rangers in Taarabt Show
Paul Gilham/Getty Images
QPR have won at the 17th attempt to claim their first three points of the season. The win comes off the back of a virtuoso performance from Adel Taarabt, who scored twice and ran the show against Fulham.
Rangers fully deserved their win over Fulham, but Harry Redknapp and Co. will have much to thank Adel Taarabt for. The Moroccan international put in one of his best-ever Premier League performances, scoring twice while threatening to run amok against Martin Jol's side.
Fulham had no answer to his intelligent movement or his runs from deep all afternoon as he fired Rangers to their first win of the season.
The first came after the Cottagers defence backed off his run before he unleashed a shot past Mark Schwarzer in the Fulham goal. The second came in similar circumstances, with the prodigious youth picking the ball up on the halfway line. He then ghosted past a number of Fulham tackles before breaking into the box, where his superb skill set up a perfect shot into the bottom corner.
Mladen Petric scored for Fulham in the 88th minute to ensure that Rangers endured a nervous end. But there was no denying Harry Redknapp and his team as they picked up their first win.
The win still leaves QPR as distinct favourites to be relegated. They have picked up just 10 points from 17 games and now need an estimated 30 points from their remaining 21 matches.
It is worth noting, though, that Rangers are unbeaten since Redknapp took over and have picked up six points from a possible 12 over their last four games.
Stoke 1-1 Everton: Toffees Concede Their 1,000th Premier League Goal
Paul Thomas/Getty Images
Stoke City remain unbeaten at the Britannia Stadium since February after they were forced to come from behind against Everton to share the points.
This game was always going to be physical, but it was very surprising how easily Everton dominated the opening period.
The Toffees started off with a 4-5-1 formation that saw Marouane Fellaini as the link between midfield and attack. The giant Belgian international caused all manner of problems for Tony Pulis' side. He proved almost impossible to mark as he drifted all over the park.
Like their city rivals Liverpool, Everton failed to capitalise on their early pressure that could and should have seen them home and dry before halftime.
As it was, only Ryan Shawcross' unfortunate own-goal would separate the two teams at the interval.
Stoke came out much hungrier than the visitors in the second period and began to dictate the game. They went close through a couple of half-chances from the likes of Kenwyne Jones and the workaholic Jonathan Walters.
Shawcross then made amends for his previous mistake by providing the assist for Jones, who equalised from a header. However, when this goal is analysed, Tim Howard's positioning was all over the place. The American seemingly misjudged where he was in relation to the goal as he let Jones' 15-yard effort past him into the goal.
The goal was the 1,000th Premier League goal Everton have conceded.
As the game wore on, Cameron Jerome and Peter Crouch were introduced to the fray by Pulis as his team pushed for a second. Both players almost immediately went close, with Howard saving his side on each occasion.
Those chances proved the last real chances of the game, as both sides seemingly settled for a draw and conserving energy as a busy Christmas period nears.
Manchester United 3-1 Sunderland: United Stroll to Nervous Finish
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Manchester United strolled to an easy victory over Sunderland at Old Trafford, but once again they did so without keeping a clean sheet.
The Red Devils were totally dominant in a first half that saw them score two goals from Robin van Persie and Tom Cleverly.
Van Persie's opening strike was a perfect example of the Dutchman at his clinical best. His left-footed pile-driver from eight yards gave Simon Mignolet no chance whatsoever after being teed up by Ashley Young.
Three minutes later and the game was as good as over when Cleverly slotted home the second after receiving a laser-like pass from Michael Carrick.
From there United pushed on and really should have extended their lead if it were not for some profligate finishing from the likes of Wayne Rooney, RVP and Young.
To their credit, Sunderland were a completely different prospect in the second period, where a change in formation saw them openly dictate United during the opening exchanges.
However, all that good work was undone when Rooney fired home United's third goal of the game following good work by Van Persie and Young.
The Black Cats refused to lie down. Just as everyone thought the Red Devils were going to win by a cricket-score, they inexplicably drifted out of the game.
Martin O'Neill's team started to dominate midfield and dictate the tempo of the game. United and Ferguson then tried to take the wind from the Black Cats' sails by making a number of substitutions. But if anything, the decision to introduce Nemanja Vidic completely undermined the delicate balance of the United rearguard.
Minutes later Sunderland were back in the game when they scored through Frazier Campbell with 20 minutes to go. A grandstand finish looked on the cards as the Black Cats pushed for a second.
As the game closed out, David de Gea was far busier than he would have liked. The Black Cats forced him into action on a number of occasions.
United held out for a win that never looked in doubt after Cleverly's goal, but their nervous finish will guarantee a hair-dryer session from Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scot will not want any kind of poor form to settle into his team with the Red Devils now facing a period where the season could swing out of their control and back in City's favour.
Norwich City 2-1 Wigan Athletic: Canaries Unbeaten in 12
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Norwich City moved up to seventh in the table thanks to a 2-1 win over Wigan Athletic at Carrow Road.
The Canaries stretched their unbeaten run to 12 games with a fully deserved win over Roberto Martinez's Wigan. Wes Hoolahan was once again the chief architect of the Canaries victory, as both he and Anthony Pilkington scored whilst providing an assist for the other.
At the start of the season, the Canaries were just far too open a prospect for Premier League teams. Using a 4-4-2 formation, they were easily ripped apart by Fulham, Liverpool and Chelsea, who scored 14 goals between them.
Staring relegation in the face, Chris Hughton then changed the complete shape and style of his team over the international break at the end of September.
Since October 2, using a new defence styled 4-5-1, Norwich have beaten Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City and are now unbeaten in 12 Premier League matches.
The key player during this fine run has been Wes Hoolahan. The Irish international plays at the top of the central midfield trio and dictates the tempo of every single match he is involved in.
Against Wigan it was more of the same. Hoolahan dropped deep to control midfield while his defensive runs in behind his wide players, Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass, always meant his team had a firm defensive foundation.
Despite scoring, Wigan found this defensive wall almost impossible to break down. As January approaches, the one player that would really make a difference to this Norwich side would be of a similar style to Christian Benteke.
For all his good work up front, Grant Holt is not clinical enough in front of goal. When push comes to shove, the Canaries are going to need a goal scorer for the days that the likes of Pilkington and Hoolahan do not hit the net.
The win leaves Norwich just two points off the Champions League spaces, while Wigan sink into another relegation battle having conceded the most goals in the Premier League this season (32).