LONDON – Manchester continues to rule the Premier League as we head into Christmas, and a major goal scoring mark was set on the penultimate night of Barclays play before the holiday weekend.
City stomped all over Stoke up north while United shelled Fulham here in the capital, while Aston Villa's Marc Albrighton was credited with Premier League goal #20,000 in a losing performance against Arsenal.
The results left City looking down from atop the table on 44 points with United just two points behind. More telling is the fact that chasing Tottenham -- who will face fourth-place Chelsea tomorrow -- are a full 10 points behind, though as of Wednesday night, they do have two matches in hand.
Spurs got a boost tonight: We can confirm Gareth Bale is fit to play Thursday night.
It was a dizzying day of football, filled with intrigue and recrimination off the field and some emphatic performances on it. United looked imperious at Craven Cottage, torturing Fulham with a 5-0 win despite losing Phil Jones early after a tough challenge from Clint Dempsey. Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov scored two glorious goals on a night the slaughter rule might have been invoked.
City, 3-0 winners over Stoke, looked like a team on the cruise control, with Sergio Aguero nicking two of the easiest goals he'll have all season.
The challengers? Arsenal got a winner against Aston Villa from Yossi Benayoun, fittingly enough on Chanukah. Liverpool? Not so lucky against drop-zone-dwelling Wigan, with Charlie Adam seeing a penalty saved while the Reds dropped two points in a 0-0 draw.
But the conversation has been dominated today by the news around Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Chelsea's John Terry. Both sanctioned for racist abuse, both men face heavy penalities, and both men and their clubs met the news with defiance. Suarez will take eight games pending an appeal for his words to United's Patrice Evra; while Terry was criminally charged by police this afternoon for his to QPR's Anton Ferdinand.
Few have any sympathy for either man. Remarkably, most media outlets -- from tabloids to the broadsheets -- were united in their condemnation of Suarez and scathing in their assessment of Liverpool's response. And yet, the American-owned club dialed up the pressure tonight as prior to kickoff, all the Liverpool players showed up wearing shirts with Suarez on the front. It was a display that was as embarrassing as it was unseemly.
But manager Kenny Dalglish was unrepentant, telling Sky Sports before the match: "Anybody that doubted the support there is for Luis from the club, they are under no illusions now." One wonders if John Henry shares that sentiment.
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas was a bit more measured in assuring the media that Terry had his and the club's support, but Terry was incandescent, saying he would "fight tooth and nail" to clear his name. He's got a tough fight: leaked reports from the Met suggest the evidence is damaging, and transcriptions of what he said cannot be printed here.
On the field, if the top of the league looks set, the picture is no less clear at the bottom of the league. Despite Bolton beating Blackburn last night in a game marked by aggressive abuse from the home fans at Ewood Park, both clubs are mired in the drop zone, and the only question is which manager will get the sack first. Reports out of Blackburn suggest that the situation is so dire that even though their barely competent Indian ownership would like to remove Steve Kean, the lack of infrastructure and talent has scared off a number of candidates.
Bolton's Owen Coyle is also under fire, and it was obvious how much the pressure is weighing on the Scot last night as he stalked onto the pitch to applaud the fans while his players stripped off their jerseys and tossed them to the crowd. He's hardly safe yet as Bolton are a full three points in the mire and, frankly, sometimes have stunk this season.
But one manager who had better be looking over his shoulder is Martin Jol. True, United are very tough to beat, but his Fulham looks like a team that cannot react to adversity. He has all the attacking talent he could want. What he doesn't seem to have is the character to take responsibility for the ups and downs, and it is clear that the dressing room is in an uproar. The mood at Craven Cottage -- one of the most professional clubs in this city -- is markedly different than at Queens Park, where you sense all hands are fully behind Neil Warnock despite the fact that Rangers, coming off a Wednesday loss to Sunderland, are very average.
Football continues tomorrow night with that Chelsea-Spurs showpiece, while Boxing Day offers games across the isles on one of the biggest sporting days of the year. Full and complete coverage rolls across all of FOX Soccer's platforms, with video reports from me from London and real-time tracking via the Twitter platform on both @FOXSoccer and @FOXSoccerTrax and @FOXSoccerTrax2 .