Aston Villa got back to winning ways and climbed into second place in the Premier League on Saturday, while Manchester City concluded a remarkable year with a victory and reminder they remain firmly in the hunt for a record fourth straight title.
Manchester United’s chronic inconsistency returned, however, as they went down 2-1 at Nottingham Forest to complete a miserable first half of the season.
Unai Emery’s Villa are title dark horses but looked like dropping points against visiting 10-man Burnley before an 89th-minute penalty from Douglas Luiz earned them a 3-2 win.
Villa’s 15-match home winning streak in the league was ended by lowly Sheffield United in a 1-1 draw last week and they then lost 3-2 at Manchester United on Boxing Day having led 2-0.
Saturday’s victory moved Villa level on 42 points with Liverpool, who lead on goal difference and host Newcastle United on Monday. Manchester City, who also have a game in hand on Villa, are third on 40 after a 2-0 win over Sheffield United.
After 20 games last season, not long into Spaniard Emery’s reign, Villa had 28 points — underlining the resurgence the Midlands side have enjoyed in the past 12 months in which they have won a club record 32 games in all competitions.
Leon Bailey fired Villa in front against Burnley, who responded through Zeki Amdouni’s volley two minutes later.
A simple finish from Moussa Diaby put the hosts back in front after 42 minutes before Burnley went down to 10 men when Sander Berge got a second yellow card for tugging Luiz’s shirt.
Battling Burnley levelled late on through Lyle Foster but Luiz got the chance to win the game from the penalty spot when Jhon Duran was fouled by Aaron Ramsey, although his spot kick only just found the net after thudding the underside of the bar.
If Villa’s year has been impressive, Manchester City’s has been truly spectacular as they won a Premier League-FA Cup-Champions League treble last season and last week were crowned FIFA Club World Cup champions for the first time.
They barely had to engage third gear on Saturday to end a run of three successive home league draws by comfortably beating bottom club Sheffield United.
Phil Foden set up Rodri to open the scoring with a precise finish in the 14th minute and the England midfielder was instrumental in City’s second goal just past the hour as his pass was tapped home by Julian Alvarez.
After a wobble, City now appear to be back in the groove.
“So tight — we’re not top of the league, Liverpool are better,” City manager Pep Guardiola said.
“Now rest, we all need it. January is less intense than November and December so we prepare for what’s next.”
Manchester United’s ninth league defeat of the season means they have fewer points and goals after 20 games of a Premier League season than ever before.
Nicolas Dominguez broke the deadlock at the City Ground in the 64th minute to give Forest the lead but a mistake by home goalkeeper Matt Turner allowed Marcus Rashford to level.
Morgan Gibbs-White curled in a superb winner though to push Forest away from danger and leave Erik ten Hag’s seventh-placed United having to go back to the drawing board.
Chelsea kicked off the day’s fixtures with a 3-2 victory at Luton Town to end a run of four successive away defeats.
Cole Palmer put Chelsea ahead in the 12th minute and was at the heart of the second goal in the 37th when he teed up Noni Madueke to score his second goal in two games.
Nicolas Jackson then sent Palmer clear to make it 3-0 in the 70th minute but Luton were not finished as late goals by Ross Barkley and Elijah Adebayo ensured a nervy finale.
Everton’s dismal Christmas continued with a third straight defeat, slumping 3-0 at Wolverhampton Wanderers to stay one place above the drop zone on 16 points, one more than 18th-placed Luton. Burnley have 11 with Sheffield United on nine.
Crystal Palace eased their relegation worries as they ended an eight-game winless run with a 3-1 victory over Brentford thanks to a double from Michael Olise.
SoccerMan United slump as Villa win proves to be another false dawn
Manchester United came crashing back to earth with a meek 2-1 Premier League defeat at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, four days after a stunning comeback to beat Aston Villa 3-2 ignited hopes of better days to come.
The inconsistency that has plagued United’s season continued at the City Ground as they lost their ninth Premier League game out of 20 to remain seventh in the table, 11 points behind leaders Liverpool.
United have lost 14 games in all competitions this season, their most defeats by the turn of the year since 1930-31 after suffering their first loss at Forest in 29 years.