- Premier League round-up
United hit for six as QPR stun nine-man Chelsea
Two goals from Mario Balotelli and further strikes from Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko (twice) and David Silva condemned 10-man Manchester United to a 6-1 derby defeat at Old Trafford on Sunday, as a rampant Manchester City increased their lead atop the Premier League.
United began the day two points behind their cross-city rivals but that gap has now been extended to five, with the ever-controversial Balotelli sparking what had been a subdued game into life with a classy finish after 20 minutes.
Jonny Evans' second-half sending off quickly made a comeback difficult for United, and Balotelli and Aguero soon took advantage to build an unassailable 3-0 lead.
Darren Fletcher's impressive long-range effort fleetingly inspired hope that United could conjure up another memorable comeback, but opportunistic late efforts from Dzeko, Silva and then Dzeko again emphatically ended that speculation.
Roberto Mancini raised eyebrows with his team selection - as he opted to start Balotelli up front alongside Aguero despite the Italian's latest controversy with some fireworks in his bathroom. A late injury concern also saw Yaya Toure given the nod over Nigel de Jong, while for United Sir Alex Ferguson opted to pair Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney in attack.
Despite the big names on show, however, the two teams failed to create any clear-cut openings in the early exchanges, with both defences staying alert to clear any danger. Indeed, the first goal of the game came with the first chance of note, as Balotelli showed no little composure to stroke a first-time shot past David de Gea after James Milner's precise cut-back.
It was a beautiful finish from the Italian, who subsequently revealed a t-shirt bearing the message 'Why Always Me?' - presumably alluding to his latest headline-grabbing escapades.
United responded by upping the tempo, but continued to be frustrated in front of goal. A poor touch from Wayne Rooney prevented the England international from testing Joe Hart after he appeared to be through on goal, before Evans got his technique all wrong to mis-hit a volley while free inside the box. Anderson then slashed wildly at a drive from the edge of the area as United went into the break on the wrong end of the scoreline.
Ferguson, perhaps hoping to spark a reaction, sent his side out slightly early for the second half - but they only made the job harder for themselves just seconds after the break. Evans was caught napping by Balotelli as the Italian burst in behind him, with the defender resorting to a blatant tug of the shirt to stop his progress. Referee Mark Clattenburg had no doubts about the offence and showed Evans a straight red, forcing United to cope for the rest of the match a player light.
While Evans' foul on Balotelli was just outside the area, minutes later they were perhaps lucky to avoid giving away a spot-kick - as Anderson escaped after appearing to bring down the onrushing Micah Richards after a tangle of legs.
United soon countered with a quick break that eventually saw Ashley Young scuff a shot wide at the second attempt, but City remained in the ascendancy - and doubled their advantage on the hour-mark. It was the same recipe for the visitors once again, as Milner ran onto Silva's clever feed deep inside the penalty area to slide a driven low cross into Balotelli at the far post, who couldn't miss from two yards out.
Less than ten minutes later the gap was increased to three, with Aguero this time the man to get on the scoresheet. Richards provided the ammunition, as he collected Milner's slide-rule pass and placed a cross in the perfect spot for Aguero to ram it home.
With 15 minutes remaining City had chances to add even more emphasis to the final result, with David De Gea doing well to deny substitute Edin Dzeko - on for Balotelli - from his low effort after an incisive counter-attack.
United then gave their fans a flicker of hope through Fletcher, the midfielder scoring a wonderful long range effort to create a little intrigue for the final 10 minutes. Rather than retreat into their shell, however, City showed a real edge in front of goal to punish their opponents on the break - with Dzeko tapping in from Joleon Lescott's cut-back, Silva firing beneath De Gea and then Dzeko rounding off the contest with another smart finish after a wonderful piece of individual skill from his Spanish partner-in-crime to release him on goal.
All that was left was the final whistle as City claimed both the points and local bragging rights - opening up a gap in the title race that a chastened United will have to make up.
Chelsea failed to make up ground on their title rivals, losing 1-0 to QPR after having Didier Drogba and Jose Bosingwa sent off at Loftus Road.
Heidar Helguson's penalty was the difference between the sides as referee Chris Foy did nothing to endear himself to the travelling Blues fans, with Chelsea suffering their second defeat of the season at the hands of their West London rivals.
Rangers took a surprise early lead when Helguson dusted himself off to score from the spot after he was awarded a penalty after a tussle with David Luiz. With the Blues on the wrong side of the scoreline, their chances of taking three points back to Stamford Bridge were made even more difficult when Bosingwa was given his marching orders for pulling back Shaun Wright-Phillips on the edge of the penalty area.
And Chelsea were reduced to nine shortly before half-time when Didier Drogba was shown a straight red card for a two-footed lunge on Adel Taarabt. Striker Daniel Sturridge made way for Branislas Ivanovic as Andre Villas-Boas attempted to shore up the Chelsea defence, but the nine men made a fight of it as they desperately searched for an equaliser.
With the clock ticking down, Ivanovic's cross found Nicolas Anelka, but the Frenchman's header was straight at Paddy Kenny, who gratefully got his hands on the ball. Then, moments later, David Luiz's spectacular overhead scissor-kick met Anelka's chipped cross but it hit Frank Lampard and flew over the bar.
Arsenal captain Robin van Persie came off the bench to strike twice and earn his side a 3-1 triumph over Stoke City at the Emirates - the first time the Gunners have won back-to-back Premier League games since February.
Both teams looked to be suffering a European hangover during a laboured opening - until Aaron Ramsey produced a moment of magic to create a goal for Gervinho. Picking the ball up on the edge of the area with 27 minutes on the clock, Ramsey scooped the ball over the top of the Stoke defence, allowing the Ivory Coast star to take a touch and rifle low past Asmir Begovic.
But the Gunners' advantage was short-lived as Peter Crouch highlighted Arsenal's frailties at set-pieces shortly after the half hour, tapping in after Ryan Shawcross had nodded a hoisted delivery into his path.
Arsene Wenger's side enjoyed nearly all the possession early in the second period without ever looking threatening, their moves regularly breaking down around the 18-yard box. The introduction of Van Persie, who surprisingly started from the bench, changed the game just after the hour.
First the Netherlands international prodded in at the near post after meeting Gervinho's drilled centre on 74 minutes, then the same players combined to make the points safe with eight minutes left, Gervinho surging to the byline before cutting back for Van Persie, who sidefooted in from the edge of the six-yard box.
Another Dutchman came to the rescue for Arsenal's North London rivals Tottenham as Rafael van der Vaart grabbed two goals to help Spurs to a 2-1 win over Blackburn at Ewood Park.
Van der Vaart fired Spurs ahead after 15 minutes, lashing home first time after an impressive solo run down the right wing from Kyle Walker. However, Rovers clawed their way back into the match when Mauro Formica equalised after Chris Samba knocked down Morten Gamst Pedersen's free-kick.
But Van der Vaart struck once again; curling a left-footed effort past Paul Robinson to seal all three points for Spurs, who leapfrog Liverpool to move up to fifth. The result will further add to Steve Kean's woes, with Blackburn rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table after a fourth defeat at home.
Elsewhere, a third minute goal from Royston Drenthe set Everton on their way as they eventually secured a 3-1 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Toffees manager David Moyes handed the Dutchman his first start in the Premier League this season, and was rewarded for his decision almost immediately as he ran onto Jack Rodwell's pass and rifled a shot beyond Mark Schwarzer. Bryan Ruiz eventually got an equaliser for Martin Jol's side midway through the second half, before Louis Saha and Rodwell both notched into injury time to snatch away all three points.