Manchester United need ten points to clinch the Premier League title after both they and champions City won on Saturday, but the real story of the afternoon came at Southampton where Chelsea suffered a huge setback in their fight for Champions League football. Arsenal and Tottenham both won as the London trio continue their battle for a top-four finish, and it was a big day for West Ham and Wigan who boosted their survival bids at the bottom.
• Heneage: United bury demons
• Brewin: Adkins shown size of task
• Brassell: Spurs get back on track
• Jolly: Kompany comeback fires City
• Delaney: Hammers buck trend
• Tactics: Everton punish Stoke
Chelsea are in great danger of missing out on Champions League football next season after they came away from Southampton with a 2-1 defeat, following Rafael Benitez's decision to rest star names for Monday's FA Cup quarter-final replay with United. Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert were on the scoresheet for Saints, leaving Chelsea only two points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal.
Benitez excused Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Demba Ba from his starting XI as he left one eye on the Cup, and Chelsea were punished when Rodriguez exchanged a one-two with Steven Davis before slotting past Petr Cech.
John Terry capitalised on poor Southampton marking to equalise at a corner, but within two minutes Lambert restored Saints' lead prior to half-time, slamming home a wonderful free-kick. Chelsea searched desperately for a route back into the match but Hazard fired agonisingly wide with one of their better efforts, as Saints moved four points clear of danger.
Arsenal capitalised as they welcomed a Reading side guided by new boss Nigel Adkins to Emirates Stadium, chalking up a 4-1 victory without England internationals Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. Defeat, which was inflicted by Gervinho, Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Mikel Arteta, leaves the Royals seven points from safety with only another seven games to play.
Arsene Wenger had warned his players they are playing for their futures until the end of the season, and the scorer of the opening goal, Gervinho, may have been one of those feeling he had a point to prove. The enigmatic forward struck after 11 minutes - tapping home Cazorla's centre - and the Gunners were then denied a blatant penalty when Giroud was clattered inside the area.
It mattered little when Cazorla capped a fine move with a beautiful curling effort three minutes into the second period, and then Giroud swept home a third after Gervinho's 40-yard run down the flank. Hal Robson-Kanu headed a consolation for the Royals, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ended any hopes of a fightback by winning a penalty that Arteta converted.
Victory for Arsenal keeps them within four points of third-placed Tottenham with a game in hand after Spurs beat Swansea 2-1 at the Liberty Stadium. Andre Villas-Boas may have feared another end-of-season collapse after Spurs suffered back-to-back league defeats prior to the international break, but goals from Jan Verthonghen and Gareth Bale got them back on track.
It took seven minutes for Verthonghen to open the scoring, and it was a finish of which any striker would have been proud as he slotted past Michel Vorm after Bale had hooked the ball into his path. However, Tottenham's second - by Bale - was special. Receiving the ball around the edge of the area he swiped it past Vorm in a flash - leaving the Swansea keeper motionless.
Michael Laudrup's side found a reply with 19 minutes remaining when Michu sent a powerful header off the inside of a post, but an equaliser failed to arrive.
Titus Bramble's unfortunate own goal allowed Manchester United to tighten their stranglehold on a 20th league title with a narrow 1-0 victory at Sunderland. The luckless defender unwittingly turned Robin van Persie's 27th-minute shot past goalkeeper Simon Mignolet after it had also clipped Phil Bardsley on its way to goal.
It proved enough to hand United a seventh successive league victory on a day when they became the first side in Premier League history to record 25 wins from their opening 30 games of a campaign.
The Black Cats were barely in the game before the break but, buoyed by United's failure to build upon their lead, rallied after it without ever testing keeper David De Gea as they extended their run without a league win to eight games, leaving them one point above the drop zone.
United probably should have killed the game off long before the final whistle, but they did enough to extend their lead at the top of the table, for a few hours at least, to 18 points, the ideal preparation for Monday's FA Cup quarter-final replay at Chelsea.
Manchester City maintained their feint hopes of a title defence with a thumping 4-0 win over Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium. Goals from Carlos Tevez, David Silva and Vincent Kompany - in addition to a James Perch own goal - returned the gap at the top to 15 points, while defeat for Alan Pardew's Magpies has them sitting extremely precariously three above the drop zone.
Samir Nasri was at the heart of everything City produced for most of the first half, but it was Tevez who made the breakthrough five minutes before the interval after Gael Clichy's assist. Silva then effectively ended the game by half-time, ramming home at the near post after more good work from Nasri.
City will still hope to end the season with silverware as the FA Cup remains a significant prospect for them, and they helped themselves to more goals in the second period as Kompany diverted Gareth Barry's shot past Rob Elliot. Yaya Toure then rattled in a deflected effort off Perch for number four.
Forward Kevin Mirallas kept Everton's bid for Champions League football alive with the only goal to increase Stoke's worries as their slide down the table continued.
The Belgium international struck from an electrifyingly quick counter-attack in the first half which left defenders trailing in his wake.
His sixth goal of the season, although only his third in 18 league appearances, was enough to ensure David Moyes' side built on their victory over champions Manchester City before the international break.
At the bottom, Wigan are in the mood for another great escape after they beat Norwich 1-0 at the DW Stadium. Arouna Kone's 81st-minute strike, which should have been saved by Lee Camp, moves the Latics above Aston Villa on 30 points with goal difference keeping them out of the bottom three.
In the day's other 3pm kick-off, West Ham eased any fears they might have had about relegation with a 3-1 victory over West Brom. The Hammers, who netted through Andy Carroll (2) and Gary O'Neil, are now up to 36 points - six clear of the drop.
Carroll opened the scoring in the 16th minute with a booming header, and then O'Neil's delightful clip doubled the advantage inside the half-hour. Carroll then added another, before Graham Dorrans' late penalty for the Baggies. Youssouf Mulumbu was sent off at the death for kicking the ball at O'Neil.