Liverpool clear, United come unstuck
Liverpool guaranteed themselves a place in the Champions League next season with a 3-2 victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road -- but their fans are dreaming of grander things now with a first-ever Premier League title in sight as they lead the table by five points.
It was a much more nerve-racking finish to the game than the travelling support could have imagined though when their team were 2-0 up within 11 minutes yet somehow found themselves clinging on at the death.
Raheem Sterling blasted Liverpool into the lead after only four minutes with a superb strike from the edge of the box that left John Ruddy grasping at thin air in the Norwich goal. Seven minutes later, he turned provider with a superb low cross that Luis Suarez tucked into the bottom corner.
Norwich steadily worked their way back into the match and were full value for the goal they clawed back on 55 minutes, though it owed much to a goalkeeping blunder by Simon Mignolet. The Liverpool No.1 came for a hanging cross but succeeded only in punching it into the head of his own defender Martin Skrtel, leaving Gary Hooper with the simple task of tapping in to an empty net from six yards.
However, as Norwich pushed forward for the equaliser, they were always liable to leave gaps at the back and Sterling took advantage with a long run from midfield that ended with a deflected shot that looped over Ruddy, under the bar and into the net to make it 3-1.
Norwich refused to go quietly, though, and Robert Snodgrass headed in their second goal to set up a tense last 13 minutes. Ricky van Wolfswinkel had a great chance to equalise on 83 minutes, but his header was too close to Mignolet.
Arsenal ensured they would remain in fourth place with three games remaining as they eased to a 3-0 victory over Hull City at the KC Stadium.
Arsenal took the lead on 31 minutes when Aaron Ramsey capped a flowing move with a composed finish into the bottom left corner. It takes the Welshman's tally for the season to 14 but is his first of the calendar year, having missed three months with a thigh injury.
The visitors extended their lead in first-half stoppage time, though in somewhat controversial circumstances. Nikica Jelavic tumbled under a challenge from Mikel Arteta in the Arsenal half, but referee Jonathan Moss waved play on and Arsenal swept up field, culminating in a crisp first-time volley from Lukas Podolski into the right corner of the net. Hull players surrounded referee Moss to complain, but even replays of the challenge proved inconclusive as to whether a foul should have been awarded.
It became 3-0 ten minutes into the second half as Podolski claimed his second of the game, latching on to a rebound from a Ramsey shot that Steve Harper could only block with his legs.
Manchester United's faint chances of finishing in the top four of the Premier League were finally ended as Everton kept alive their own hopes of Champions League football next season with a comfortable 2-0 win at Goodison Park.
David Moyes was booed on his return to the club that he managed for 11 years before his beleaguered tenure at Old Trafford, which had another abject performance added to the logbook. United have played 22 matches in all competitions in 2014 and lost 10 of them.
Despite dominating possession, United were frequently caught out by Everton's direct counter-attacking that used Romelu Lukaku's physical presence to its full advantage. It was Lukaku's shot that forced desperate measures upon Phil Jones on 27 minutes and his handball gifted the hosts a penalty, which Leighton Baines - a long-time target for United - converting emphatically.
It got worse for United two minutes before half time as Kevin Mirallas scored from a tight angle after more quick counter-attacking by Everton.
In truth, it did not get any better at any point for Moyes or his team. A stream of substitutions followed in the second half, but nothing could turn the tide in United's favour. The best chances of the second half fell to Everton, with Mirallas warming de Gea's gloves and Naismith failing to hit the target when picked out at the back post by a Mirallas cross.
Everton are still one point behind Arsenal in the race for fourth place, while United cannot finish any higher than fifth even if the win their remaining four matches.