Manchester City cut the gap to rivals United at the top of the Premier League to four points on Saturday, while Liverpool hit five as they moved level with Arsenal in the hunt for European football. Newcastle's survival hopes were derailed by Reading, who moved out of the bottom three at the expense of Wigan.
Roberto Mancini will hope for a favour from Tottenham after Manchester City did their job ahead of United's trip to White Hart Lane on Sunday, beating Fulham 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium. A brace from David Silva ensured pressure was applied by the champions as they attempt to hunt down their neighbours.
Mancini does not expect any big-name signings in January, but he was boosted by the return of two important squad members as Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri took to the bench against Fulham. And the duo were treated to a goal after two minutes, as Silva pounced on Mark Schwarzer's parry after Edin Dzeko had fired at goal.
Steve Sidwell shaved the outside of a post for Fulham, who found themselves without the ball for large periods, and tension grew for the home side as their slender lead looked increasingly precarious. However, with 20 minutes left Silva got his second, capitalising on Carlos Tevez's delightful touch to seal the three points.
Liverpool bounced back from defeat at Old Trafford with a convincing 5-0 victory over Norwich at Anfield. Daniel Sturridge was handed his first start by Brendan Rodgers, and he struck up an instant understanding with Luis Suarez as goals from Jordan Henderson, Suarez, Sturridge, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling lifted the Reds up to seventh - six points shy of the top four.
Rodgers had to make do without injured 'keeper Pepe Reina as Brad Jones, Jamie Carragher and Henderson all came into the starting XI. Jones was called into action early as Ryan Bennett wasted a glorious headed chance for Norwich, sending his effort straight at the Liverpool keeper.
The Reds had to wait until the 26th minute for the breakthrough, Henderson smashing home in superb fashion from the edge of the area. The next goal was even better as Sturridge nonchalantly stepped over the ball to allow Suarez to run clear, the Uruguayan clipping home his 16th league goal of the season with his left foot.
Fittingly, Sturridge got his own name on the scoresheet in the second half when he tapped home Stewart Downing's excellent first-time cross, before Gerrard lashed in a 25-yarder. Sterling then stepped off the bench to guide a fifth past Bunn as the Reds turned on the style.
Newcastle started the day two points above the bottom three and will continue to feel desperately uncomfortable about their top-flight future after a 2-1 defeat at home to comeback specialists Reading. Yohan Cabaye handed Alan Pardew's men the lead at St James' Park, but Adam Le Fondre stepped off the bench to score a brace as the Royals leapt out of the relegation zone.
Adam Federici was a busy man in the first half as he denied Newcastle with a couple of top-drawer saves, but he could do nothing about Cabaye's pinpoint free-kick in the 35th minute.
Newcastle could not build on that moment, though, and Le Fondre bundled the ball home 19 minutes from time before curling in a delightful second, leaving Pardew's men in real danger, while Reading are now 17th on goal difference.
QPR are a point closer to dragging themselves out of danger as Harry Redknapp's men clung on for a 1-1 draw against West Ham at Upton Park.
Redknapp handed a start to new signing Loic Remy, and it took less than 15 minutes for him to start repaying that fee as he latched onto a fantastic pass by Adel Taarabt to run clear of the home defence.
West Ham then screamed for a penalty on the half-hour when Marouane Chamakh was felled by Shaun Wright-Phillips, but nothing was given. In the second period, Chamakh missed a golden headed chance, but Joe Cole eventually equalised in the 68th minute, leaving QPR four adrift of 17th spot.
Wigan's survival hopes were badly dented by a 3-2 defeat against Sunderland at the DW Stadium as they dropped below Reading into the relegation zone. The Latics led after a fourth-minute own goal from David Vaughan, but a harsh penalty decision for handball allowed Craig Gardner to equalise.
Steven Fletcher then handed Sunderland the lead when he beat Ali Al-Habsi at the second attempt, and he curled home his second prior to half-time. Angelo Henriquez scored a late penalty for Wigan, but they could not find a leveller.
Aston Villa squandered a two-goal lead and were left with just a point from the west midlands derby against West Brom as it ended 1-1.
It looked like being all three when Christian Benteke (12) and Gabriel Agbonlahor (31) put Villa two up at The Hawthorns but Chris Brunt pulled one back four minutes after half-time and Peter Odemwingie earned the Baggies a 2-2 draw seven minutes from time.
Elsewhere, Swansea won 3-1 against Stoke at the Liberty Stadium in a mid-table contest. Michu missed a first-half sitter for the Swans, but Ben Davies scored a memorable goal early in the second half before Jonathan De Guzman added a brace. Michael Owen grabbed a consolation for Stoke with his 150th Premier League goal.