The Manchester clubs ushered in 2013 by making statements of intent in the English Premier League title race on Tuesday, with United cruising to a 4-0 win at Wigan and City easing past Stoke 3-0 at home.
Braces by Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie, who took his league-high tally to 16 goals, ensured United maintained its seven-point lead at the top, with its under-fire defence keeping a second straight clean sheet.
Second-place City kept the pressure on, however, thanks to goals by Pablo Zabaleta, Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero at the Etihad Stadium, ending Stoke’s 10-match unbeaten run.
Tottenham climbed provisionally to third, above Chelsea by a point, by beating Reading 3-1 having fallen behind in the fourth minute.
At the bottom, struggling Aston Villa ended a run of three heavy defeats by drawing 2-2 at Swansea but will rue conceding an equaliser deep into stoppage-time by Danny Graham.
Fulham and West Ham both won 2-1, against West Bromwich and Norwich, respectively, to stop their slide toward the relegation zone.
City manager Roberto Mancini highlighted Van Persie as the difference between the Manchester rivals this season, bemoaning his failure to beat United to the striker’s signature in the summer.
And the Dutchman showed once again why he could be the determining factor in the title race, scoring another sublime goal this time with his unfavoured right foot and rounding off a dominant win at the DW Stadium with his 19th goal in all competitions.
With Wayne Rooney still absent because of a knee ligament injury, Javier Hernandez was given another opportunity up front and he didn’t waste it, displaying his predatory instincts with goals in the 35th and 63rd minutes. It left Wigan with no chance of repeating its surprise home win over Ferguson’s side last season.
City did its job by crushing Stoke to keep the pressure on its neighbour, although it proved to be a bittersweet match for Aguero.
The Argentina striker completed the scoring by converting a 74th-minute penalty, adding to goals by Zabaleta and Dzeko, but hobbled off with a hamstring injury that is likely to keep him out for City’s next two matches.
Aguero could easily have come away with a hat-trick, only to find Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic in fine form before his resistance was breached by right back Zabaleta in the 40th.
With Chelsea not playing until Wednesday, against last-place Queens Park Rangers, Tottenham didn’t waste a chance to rise above its London rival.
Pavel Pogrebnyak put Reading ahead early but Michael Dawson equalised, Emmanuel Adebayor headed powerfully in for 2-1 and Clint Dempsey added a deflected third.
Dimitar Berbatov was at his delightful best for Fulham, the languid Bulgarian striker scoring one and running rings around West Brom’s defense in a vital win at the Hawthorns. Sweden winger Alex Kacaniklic grabbed Fulham’s 58th-minute winner, ending his team’s four-match winless run that had dropped it close to relegation trouble.
Norwich slipped to a fourth straight league loss after conceding first-half goals to Mark Noble and Joey O’Brien for West Ham, rendering Russell Martin’s late goal a consolation.
Villa finally earned a point at the end of a chastening festive schedule, in which it had conceded 15 goals in three big losses, but Paul Lambert’s side still won’t be happy.
Christian Benteke looked to have given Villa victory by converting an 84th-minute penalty at the Liberty Stadium for 2-1 but Graham scored in a goalmouth scramble four minutes into injury-time to grab a deserved point for Swansea.