Manchester City handed the initiative in the Premier League title race to Liverpool with a shock 3-2 home defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign as Manchester United manager got off to a flying start in a 5-1 victory at Cardiff.
Chelsea were also stunned at home by Jamie Vardy’s winner for Leicester in a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge to allow Arsenal to move level on points with their London rivals in fourth after a 3-1 win over Burnley.
United are now just eight points back in the race for a top-four finish as goals from Marcus Rashford, Ander Herrera, Anthony Martial and a Jesse Lingard double in the Welsh capital meant that for once this season it was a good day for the red half of Manchester.
Liverpool opened up a four-point lead at the top with a highly impressive 2-0 win at Wolves on Friday to extend their unbeaten start to the campaign.
And City failed to cut the gap as they dropped points at home for the first time this season despite going ahead through Ilkay Gundogan’s header.
Jeffrey Schlupp levelled for Palace against the run of play just after the half-hour mark and two minutes later Andros Townsend thumped a stunning volley into the top corner from well outside the area.
Pep Guardiola summoned Sergio Aguero from the bench soon after the break, but City had a mountain to climb when Kyle Walker chopped down Max Meyer and Luka Milivojevic dispatched the resulting penalty.
“We cannot concede the penalty we conceded,” said Guardiola. “We have to try and avoid it.
“Football is like this. Three shots on goal and three goals.”
Kevin De Bruyne was also thrown on to try and turn the game around and his intended cross that flew in off the post brought City back into the game five minutes from time.
But despite incessant pressure, the champions could not find an equaliser to hand Liverpool a huge boost ahead of their trip to City on January 3.
“You don’t produce that sort of performance by waving a magic wand or having a five-minute team talk,” said Palace boss Roy Hodgson. “There’s a lot of work that goes into that structure and we were excellent.”
The axe finally fell on Jose Mourinho’s time in charge of United on Tuesday with the 20-time champions 19 points off the top after just 17 games and the decision to sack the Portuguese was justified by a transformation in performance from the side beaten 3-1 at Liverpool last weekend.
Paul Pogba was restored to the starting line-up for the first time in four league games and played a role in all of the visitors first three goals as Rashford’s free-kick, a deflected long-range strike from Herrera and brilliant team goal finished off by Martial put United in command before halftime.
Both sides benefited from a dubious penalty call as Victor Camarasa briefly halved Cardiff’s deficit in the first-half before Lingard made it 4-1 just after the break.
And another defence-splitting pass from Pogba freed Lingard to round off the scoring a minute from time.
Chelsea’s first defeat at Stamford Bridge under Maurizio Sarri helped United close on the Champions League places as Vardy fired home James Maddison’s pass to give the Foxes their first victory in five games.
“We played well for 55 minutes, after the goal the reaction was not the right reaction,” said Sarri. “We reacted a little shocked and with mental confusion.”
Defeat for the Blues allowed Arsenal to close on a top-four finish as two goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang beat Burnley 3-1.
Mesut Ozil made his return to Unai Emery’s starting line-up in the Premier League for the first time since November 11 and helped set up Aubameyang’s opener.
“We want Mesut like today,” said Emery.
Aubameyang smashed home his 12th Premier League goal of the season to move ahead of Mohamed Salah as the division’s top scorer early in the second period and Alex Iwobi secured the points after Ashley Barnes pulled a goal back for the Clarets.
Watford moved up to seventh by ending West Ham’s four-game winning run with Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu netting in a 2-0 win.
Bournemouth are eighth as David Brooks’s double beat 10-man Brighton 2-0, who had England international Lewis Dunk sent off.
Southampton’s upturn in fortunes under Ralph Hasenhuettl continued with a 3-1 win at Huddersfield thanks to goals from Nathan Redmond, Danny Ings and Michael Obafemi.
And Fulham remain rooted to the foot of the table despite avoiding defeat on the road for just the second time this season in a 0-0 draw at Newcastle.