LONDON (AP) — Manchester United relied on early goals from its much-maligned defense and a stunning strike from Tom Cleverley to secure an impressive 3-0 win at Newcastle on Sunday, keeping the pressure on Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.
Tottenham is just a point behind second-place United after beating Aston Villa 2-0 for a fourth straight win, but the misery continues for Liverpool courtesy of a frustrating 0-0 home draw with Stoke.
Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra scored headers from corners for United in the opening 15 minutes and could then celebrate a rare clean sheet this season after Cleverley's long-range curler in the 71st made the game safe at St. James' Park.
"We came here, defended brilliantly. We fully deserved the victory," said England striker Wayne Rooney, who starred in his role as an attacking midfielder for United. "The first six games of the season we haven't defended well enough — not just the back four, the whole team, and today we were brilliant against a physical team."
United is level on points with Manchester City and four behind Chelsea after seven games, with the standings starting to take shape and the likely title contenders back among the frontrunners.
Tottenham can be included among them, with goals by Steven Caulker and Aaron Lennon moving the team to fifth — level on points with fourth-place Everton.
Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas dropped goalkeeper Brad Friedel to the bench to end the American veteran's record run of 310 Premier League starts in a row, dating back to May 2004. His replacement, summer signing Hugo Lloris, barely had a save to make at White Hart Lane on his league debut.
"Obviously Brad was disappointed but as a great professional, he ended up accepting the decision," Villas-Boas said. "We respect his performances and I'm sure he will be back in the team as soon as possible."
Liverpool remains languishing in the wrong half of the table after failing to break down a stubborn, physical Stoke backline at Anfield, although the hosts struck the post twice through Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel.
"We just needed the final touch in the box to round up some good play," said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, whose team is in 14th place following its worst start to a league season in more than a century.
In Sunday's other match, Jose Fonte scored a late equalizer — his second goal of the game — to earn Southampton a 2-2 draw against Fulham and lift the team out of the bottom three.