City climb above United
Sir Alex Ferguson took a huge gamble with his forward line at Anfield on Saturday, and he needed Javier Hernandez to emerge from the bench to produce a rescue act as Manchester United earned a 1-1 draw with Liverpool. Manchester City are now the Premier League leaders after they beat Aston Villa.
Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, making his first start of the season, appeared to have won the derby when he fed a free-kick through a hospitable-looking United wall in the lunchtime kick-off. However, having failed to threaten for the majority of the opening 80 minutes, United snatched a draw late on when Hernandez arrived unmarked at a corner.
There was huge news for both sides prior to kick-off as a combined total of over £150 million of talent was left on the two benches. Liverpool confirmed the selection of fit-again skipper Gerrard at the expense of Andy Carroll, while United's XI featured neither Wayne Rooney nor Hernandez.
Without their star attackers United created next to nothing until their late equaliser, and in a tight first half Liverpool had the one clear opening when Luis Suarez bore down on the United goal, only to then make life difficult for himself. Staying alive to Charlie Adam's mishit shot, Suarez had the goal directly in front of him on his favoured right foot, but he decided to fake inside Jonny Evans onto his left before softly shooting straight at David De Gea.
Liverpool were undoubtedly the better side after half-time and, after Dirk Kuyt saw a huge penalty appeal turned down, the Reds took the lead through Gerrard. Rio Ferdinand was initially fortunate to escape a second yellow card for felling Adam on the edge of the box, but the foul allowed Gerrard to find a whole in the wall caused by Ryan Giggs, giving De Gea no chance in the United goal.
Ferguson responded by throwing Rooney, Nani and Hernandez into the fray, and it was the Mexican who equalised from a corner nine minutes from time. Still there was time to win the match and Kuyt should have done so when his stretching half volley was superbly saved by De Gea, although the Spaniard's best was yet to come as he flung himself full length to deny Jordan Henderson's dipping volley in injury-time.
Manchester City were able to take advantage of United's slip in their home clash with Aston Villa, defeating Alex McLeish's side 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium. Roberto Mancini's men continue to cope well with the ongoing Carlos Tevez saga, and they now hold a two-point lead at the top thanks to goals from Mario Balotelli, Adam Johnson, Vincent Kompany and James Milner.
If there has been a silver lining to the cloud caused by the Tevez substitution storm, it is the fact that Balotelli has been handed more game time in City blue. The Italian was excellent against Blackburn before the international break and he got on the scoresheet once again after 28 minutes against Villa, sending an overhead kick rattling past former City keeper Shay Given.
Two minutes into the second half it was 2-0 when Stephen Warnock's slip allowed Johnson to bear down on Given, sliding the ball past the Villa keeper with the minimum of fuss. And by the 52nd minute it was game over when Kompany got in on the act, arriving at the near post to glance home Johnson's corner.
Warnock gave Villa a glimmer when he slammed the ball past Joe Hart off the bar, but Milner ended the hopes of his former club with a sublime finish for City's fourth.
Chelsea emphatically ended their Everton hoodoo to move back to within three points of Manchester City with a 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues had not beaten Everton since the 2009 FA Cup final and were looking for their first home win against them in six seasons, but goals from Daniel Sturridge, John Terry and Ramires sealed victory.
Apostolos Vellios netted a late consolation with his first touch after coming off the bench, but Chelsea - inspired by the outstanding Juan Mata - were worthy winners.
At the bottom of the table, Blackburn boss Steve Kean continues to find himself under pressure after Rovers could only draw 1-1 with new boys Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. Defeat leaves Blackburn with just five points from eight games at the foot of the table.
In fairness to Rovers, there was some fortune attached to the opening goal for QPR, after Heidar Helguson's mishit cross found its way over Paul Robinson. Fortunately they only trailed for eight minutes before Christopher Samba towered over the Rangers defence to level with a trademark header.
Bolton are another side in trouble at the bottom, but boss Owen Coyle's cause was helped by a 3-1 win against Wigan at the DW Stadium. Victory lifts the Trotters above Wigan and out of the bottom three.
It took just four minutes for Bolton to take the lead, Nigel Reo-Coker scoring his first Premier League goal for three years. However, Wigan were level by the break thanks to a curling Mohamed Diame effort from outside the penalty area.
By half-time Bolton had the noses in front once more though, with former Liverpool man David N'Gog converting Kevin Davies' assist from close range, and it could have been more comfortable but for a woeful penalty miss by Davies - who clipped a soft effort straight at Ali Al-Habsi. In the end, Bolton had to wait until injury-time for Chris Eagles to settle matters.
Swansea are yet to concede at home this season but their away form provides a stark contrast after they conceded goals 10, 11 and 12 in a 3-1 defeat to Norwich. Norwich had not scored in the first half hour of any league match prior to kick-off, but they struck inside the first minute at Carrow Road, Anthony Pilkington doing what he could not manage at Old Trafford by finding the net - scoring the quickest Premier League goal of the season in 49 seconds.
It was 2-0 after 10 minutes when Russell Martin capitalised on some poor Swansea defending, but by the 12th the Swans were back in it as Danny Graham swept home after Scott Sinclair's excellent run. The goal did not inspire a comeback though as Pilkington added his second from three yards, helping Norwich onto a healthy 11-point tally.
The day's other afternoon fixture saw Stoke continue their European ambitions with a hard-earned 2-0 victory over Fulham at the Britannia Stadium. It looked like Stoke might be left to rue Jermaine Pennant's profligacy in front of goal, but Jon Walters struck with 10 minutes remaining before Rory Delap killed the Cottagers off.