Commentary

United draws level on points with City

Updated: December 26, 2011, 1:50 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

Manchester City may have led the highest division in England at Christmas for the first time since 1929, but recent history has told us that not many clubs have held on to the advantage come May.

City, talented and deep yet untested at this stage of the campaign, needed to win at surging West Bromwich Albion on a typically chaotic Boxing Day to avoid slipping into a draw on points with Manchester United. The latter undoubtedly wouldn't slip up against Wigan at Old Trafford, and like Santa navigating a chimney, United is prone to making a move about this time of the season.

[+] EnlargeDimitar Berbatov
Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty ImagesDimitar Berbatov scored a hat trick against Wigan.

But a little more heat is on City manager Roberto Mancini and his players after they ended their match against the Baggies in a scoreless draw, while United routed Wigan, 5-0.

West Brom, which had won two straight on the road, defended courageously at the Hawthorns and took advantage of an uncharacteristically sloppy City in front of goal. Mancini has settled on Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli as his strike partnership, casting aside the hot-and-cold Edin Dzeko. Yaya Toure and David Silva have sparkled in the center of midfield, but Silva's miss in the 25th minute was a sign of things to come. Teed up by Aguero inside the box, he sliced his effort. Ben Foster, shaky in West Brom's 3-2 win at Newcastle last week, didn't even need to make a save.

City's most ominous spell of pressure came midway in the first half, and the increasingly influential Balotelli -- this season, that is -- saw his deflected free kick go narrowly wide with Foster rooted to his line. Toure should have done better when, off a corner, the ball found his head. Unfortunately, a surprised Toure didn't make great contact.

Midway in the second half, Balotelli hit the crossbar with a knuckleball. Aguero was destined to toe poke the ball past Foster -- before a last-ditch tackle.

It'd be a stretch to say West Brom threatened on the counter, although striker Shane Long looked highly embarrassed when he got his free header all wrong. But Long and teammates put in a strong shift that was enough to frustrate the goal-scoring machine that is Manchester City.

Red hot at Old Trafford

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is having a hard time finding healthy bodies at the moment. Good thing for him Wigan was Monday's visitor to Old Trafford. Wigan had lost all 13 of its previous matches against United, outscored 16-0 in the past four alone. So despite morale-boosting draws against Chelsea and Liverpool, the Latics really had no hope.

United set the tone against Fulham and QPR in the past week by scoring early, and Park Ji-Sung maintained the trend with a neat finish in the eighth minute. (Nice Christmas fixture list, eh?) When striker Conor Sammon was harshly sent off for a wandering arm that struck makeshift central defender Michael Carrick in the 40th minute, it became a matter of how many goals United would score.

Last season's joint top scorer Dimitar Berbatov made it 2-0 a minute later, and he would go on to net a hat trick. Berbatov, who also scored against Fulham, was making only his second league start of the season, with Wayne Rooney rested.

Amid his three-goal effort and City's unexpected draw, don't forgot about this: Anders Lindegaard made his second consecutive start in goal, with David de Gea benched (not rested). He's is 5-0 in the Premier League this season -- without conceding. Is it a sign of Ferguson's growing confidence in Lindegaard, or a bit of man-management during the glut of fixtures during the festive period?

With City poised to lose Toure to the African Cup of Nations, United will be looking to put even more pressure on its crosstown rival. But the lead could change hands as early as this weekend. United should collect three points against Blackburn at home, while City visits a rejuvenated Sunderland under Martin O'Neill.

[+] EnlargeClint Dempsey
Julian Finney/Getty ImagesFulham's Clint Dempsey, right, scored the equalizer against Chelsea, a match that ended 1-1.

Befuddled Blues

Here was a belated Christmas present for Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas: Facing West London rival Fulham at Stamford Bridge, he didn't have to contend with the burly, out of favor Bobby Zamora or slippery Andy Johnson.

Instead, Fulham boss Martin Jol, under pressure following a poor start and 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United at Craven Cottage last week, boldly opted for little known Orlando Sa up top. Indeed, it was a team sheet that begged for Chelsea to press and harangue Fulham early. But it didn't happen, and the final result was a third consecutive 1-1 draw for the Blues. Their win over Manchester City, ending City's unbeaten Premier League run and slightly reviving their own title hopes, seemed like ages ago rather than transpiring on Dec. 12.

Any and all urgency was lacking from the host in a first half, when Sa had the best chance. Getting the better of right back Jose Bosingwa, his header from 6 yards out ballooned over the bar.

Despite Chelsea's labored opening 45 minutes, order was restored when Juan Mata struck in the 47th, taking advantage of fine hold-up play by Fernando Torres, who got the start ahead of Didier Drogba. But less than 10 minutes later, Bryan Ruiz eluded Ashley Cole all too easily, and his low cross was tapped in by the ever-impressive Clint Dempsey. (Will the U.S. international ever join a bigger club?) Chelsea keeper Petr Cech should shoulder some of the blame -- again -- as he was slow to react to the danger.

Villas-Boas made three substitutions, and they were all bizarre. Yes, Frank Lampard was ineffective (as he was at Wigan). But why not take off holding midfielder Oriol Romeu instead of Lampard in the 62nd minute with Chelsea chasing the game? Move Raul Meireles into the holding role.

When Drogba entered in the 71st, Torres remained. Yet it was Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea's top performer this season, who trudged off. Sturridge has had better games, but minutes earlier he had forced David Stockdale into a good save. Torres was isolated as he shifted to an advanced role on the right side of midfield.

How could one explain Villas-Boas removing Bosingwa for Paulo Ferreira in the 81st minute, unless the former was injured? Chelsea was bossing possession at the time, so Fulham was hardly a threat on the counter. Bosingwa is one of the best crossers of the ball in the Premier League; Ferreira is strictly defense.

Now on to the Torres Watch. It'd be easy to rip the 50 million-pound man because he didn't score. However, Torres didn't get much service in the first half and didn't do much wrong on his lone chance. He superbly controlled Mata's through ball with his chest and, on the volley, acrobatically got a shot away. Unfortunately for him, it was straight at Stockdale, who was solid as he continued to deputize for Mark Schwarzer. Just Torres' luck.

A precious point for Jol. Not so for Villas-Boas.

Relief for Kean

Blackburn's brass probably had it planned like this after Rovers lost a six-pointer at the bottom of the table to Bolton last week: Let's keep "Dead Man Walking" manager Steve Kean on for games at Liverpool and United and give the new boss an easier start. While Blackburn probably won't get anything at United, it pulled off a surprise by tying Liverpool 1-1 at Anfield. Reserve keeper Mark Bunn was the hero.

He engineered one of the saves of the season by keeping out Andy Carroll's header in the fifth minute of injury time. On the ensuing corner, Daniel Agger's header was cleared off the line.

It was nice to see. Kean has gotten far too much abuse from the fans and has had no money to spend. Arsenal, like Liverpool and Chelsea chasing the fourth spot, will likely capitalize on the duo's dropped points Tuesday against Wolves.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE SPORTS HEADLINES

MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM