Man City head into derby on top as Liverpool hold Man Utd

There was always a strong chance that Manchester United would drop points at Anfield and Manchester City reacted well to their 1-1 draw by strolling past previously unbeaten Aston Villa 4-1 to climb top of the table.

The timing of a victory that leaves the FA Cup winners two points above their rivals, who have played four of last season’s top six to the Citizens’ one, was all the more significant as next Sunday hosts the first Manchester derby of the campaign at Old Trafford.

Roberto Mancini had to make do without Sergio Aguero and started Samir Nasri, David Silva and Edin Dzeko on the bench, but they weren’t missed, with Mario Balotelli vindicating his manager’s trust again with a fourth goal in as many games.

That impressive display of squad depth against a team who regularly finish in the top half has seen Manchester City backed in to 13/8 to be crowned champions, however Manchester United remain evens favourites to complete a 20th title triumph.

Yet while it is the clubs from Carlos Tevez’s favourite city who continue to dominate the headlines, Chelsea are piecing together an encouraging sequence of results.

Their 3-1 win over Everton on Saturday teatime was both their third in succession since their defeat at Old Trafford last month and also their first over the Toffees at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League since way back in April 2006.

Daniel Sturridge was again a scorer as the Blues moved to within a point of Manchester United, and 3/1 is an intriguing price on them finishing first, as they will be confident of victory at QPR next week when at least one of the top two will drop points.

One concern for Andre Villas-Boas though will be Apostolos Vellios’ late goal for the visitors, which made it seven top-flight matches without a clean sheet for the usually resilient west Londoners.