Manchester United put the boot into Manchester City and restored red ascendancy in the city thanks to a crushing 4-2 derby victory at Old Trafford on Sunday that moved them four points clear of their ailing rivals.
Chelsea look too far ahead for third-placed United’s late charge and took another step towards the title by moving seven points clear at the top after Cesc Fabregas’s 88th minute winner snatched a 1-0 win at lowly Queens Park Rangers.
United had lost the last four Premier League derbies against City but their tails were up ahead of the 169th edition after a run of five straight league wins, while rivals City were low on confidence following four wins from 11 league games.
City looked to wash away memories of Monday’s defeat against Crystal Palace at a wet and blustery Old Trafford as Sergio Aguero put them ahead on eight minutes after an explosive start to the match. But the visitors failed to build on their early dominance and Ashley Young bundled in an equaliser before towering Belgian Marouane Fellaini thumped in Young’s cross with a powerful header after 27 minutes.
Juan Mata’s cool finish extended the lead in the second period and Chris Smalling capitalised on some slack marking to head home Wayne Rooney’s free kick as United began to remember what glory feels like after a poor season last term.
With United fans chanting “you’re getting sacked in the morning” at City boss Manuel Pellegrini, Aguero added a late goal that did nothing to ease the visitors’ pain. United have 65 points from 32 matches, one behind second-placed Arsenal but four more than champions City with six matches remaining.
“We started very badly. It was not Manchester United, we were very nervous. I don’t know why,” United boss Louis van Gaal told the BBC. “We had no pressure on the ball. I don’t know why. But when we scored the goal, from that moment we had more confidence. We are four points ahead of fourth in the table and I am very happy for the fans. I have seen what it means for them. They always supported us when the results were not good.”
United will feel they now have a Champions League spot in the bag and Chelsea fans must believe the title is theirs given the luck they have had in the last two games and the fact they still have a game in hand.
For a second straight match, an error from an opposing goalkeeper led to their winner, with Robert Green at fault for a poor clearance.
Chelsea dominated possession but, in the absence of injured forwards Diego Costa and Loic Remy, failed to register a shot on target until Green’s error eventually led to Spain’s Fabregas dispatching Eden Hazard’s lay-off to seal victory.
QPR, embroiled in relegation battle, had been the more dangerous team throughout and created a number of chances but were thwarted by visiting goalkeeper Thibault Courtois. Chelsea have 73 points from 31 games and next play United and Arsenal.
“I think it was a vital (result),” Fabregas, who had seen a drop in form since the turn of the year, told Sky Sports. “We are playing for the most important trophy of the season and we’ve been up there since the first day so we want to continue like this. We know that some teams are putting pressure from the back but we want to be solid and we want to win important games and that showed the character of this team. It was a fantastic time to score.”
QPR remain 18th, two points behind Hull City — the side immediately above the relegation zone.
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