English Premier League Roundup, Nov. 21
Manchester City moved three points behind joint leaders Chelsea and Manchester United with a 4-1 thrashing of Fulham, and Blackburn gave its new Indian owners a winning start in the Premier League by beating Aston Villa 2-0.
After being criticized for playing too negatively in recent games, City produced an attacking masterclass at Craven Cottage, with goals in either half by Argentina striker Carlos Tevez sandwiching efforts by Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Toure.
Zoltan Gera's 70th-minute consolation would have failed to brighten the mood of Fulham manager Mark Hughes, who was looking for revenge against the team that fired him midway through last season.
Blackburn was playing in front of two directors of Venky's, the Indian poultry giant which paid 23 million pounds ($36.8 million) to buy out the club on Friday, and the team responded with a hard-fought victory over Villa courtesy of a goal in each half by Morten Gamst Pedersen.
With Chelsea losing to Birmingham and Arsenal going down to Tottenham on Saturday, City's win means the top four teams are separated by only three points.
Chelsea and Manchester United, which beat Wigan 2-0 on Saturday, have 28 points, two more than Arsenal.
After scoring in the fifth minute through Tevez, who shrugged off Carlos Salcido before slipping home a neat finish, City was in control and oozed a confidence that had been lacking in recent weeks.
"Especially in the first half, it was the best we've played," City and England midfielder Gareth Barry said. "It was a good chance to make an impression and move up the league."
Right back Pablo Zabaleta doubled City's lead in the 32nd and central midfielder Yaya Toure made it 3-0 in the 35th to complete the first-half scoring in front of former Argentina coach Diego Maradona, who was in the crowd.
Tevez flicked home Zabaleta's goal-bound shot in the 56th to make it 4-0, before Gera's deflected consolation.
"We had a fantastic performance," said City manager Roberto Mancini, whose tactics have been heavily criticized following recent scoreless draws at home to local rival United and Birmingham.
Hughes failed to exact revenge on City, which sacked the former Wales manager on Dec. 19 and replaced him with Mancini the same day, and acknowledged his new club had been beaten by the better team.
"I thought Manchester City were excellent in the first half, probably the best they have played this season," Hughes said. "If you play like that against the players they have, they will make you pay."
New owners Balaji Rao and B. Venkatesh Rao were given a generous reception by the Blackburn crowd as they took their seats before kickoff and they saw their team battle to a gritty win over Villa, which had the better of the chances but could not find a way past goalkeeper Paul Robinson.
"It's a new era and I'm looking forward to giving them ideas about how the club can go forward," Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce said, referring to Rovers' new owners.
"Hopefully, like every Blackburn fan, the players and myself, they will be very happy with the way we have won today and the performance that was given."
Pedersen gave Blackburn the lead in first-half injury time when he whipped in a free kick from the right that caught out goalkeeper Brad Friedel, the ball sailing over the former United States international and nestling into the far corner.
Robinson kept out efforts by Stewart Downing and the lively Ashley Young either side of the opening goal. Young also hit the crossbar with a header in the 49th.
Pederson secured the points for the hosts when he met Phil Jones' cross-cum-shot with a stabbed finish from six yards out.
Villa brought on Robert Pires for the final 22 minutes but he could inspire a comeback. The former France winger joined on a free transfer last week.
The result lifted Blackburn above Villa and into 11th place in the standings.