By TRAVIS CLARK
It was all or nothing for Rafa Benitez and Liverpool on Saturday. While a loss wouldn't officially knock them out of the title race, it would be the club's fifth loss in a row and continue to undermine Benitez's job status.
However, Fernando Torres was passed fit, and his presence in the starting lineup was welcome considering captain Steven Gerrard was injured. The pressure was on, and Rafa's charges responded enough to quiet the naysayers for at least the next week. Liverpool nearly punished United early on, with Edwin van der Saar keeping the score level on a couple of early chances.
It would stay level until Yossi Benayoun put in Torres in the second half, and the Spanish striker obliged by holding off Rio Ferdinand and smashing past the van der Saar keeper. Two red cards — for Nemanja Vidic and Javier Mascherano were sent off, before David N'Gog finished the scoring for Liverpool.
Chelsea 5, Blackburn 0
When Chelsea is on, they're nigh on impossible to stop. Granted, it was a shellacking of Blackburn, a common site in London, but the way they took apart Sam Allardyce's squad should leave the rest of the league on notice. Two goals from Frank Lampard and a screamer from Michael Essien were the highlights. You'd have to like Chelsea's chances in a season, especially after a weekend where their closest rivals dropped points.
Wolverhampton 1, Aston Villa 1
Dropped points for Villa here, as they almost put new boys Wolves away late. A Gabriel Agbanlahor goal in the 79th minute looked to secure all three points, but Steve Sidwell brought down Michael Kightly in the box, and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake smashed home the resulting penalty. Wolves fought hard and certainly deserved a point out of the match.
Manchester City 2, Fulham 2
Fulham showed real fight on the road to get a point away from Craven Cottage — especially after going down 2-0. Goals from Joleon Lescott and Martin Petrov had Manchester City cruising at the Eastlands. But Damien Duff pulled a goal back for the visitors, setting up Clint Dempsey to score his first goal of the season to seal the draw. Poor from a club with title ambitions, while Roy Hodgson has to be satisfied after three games in seven days.
Birmingham City 2, Sunderland 1
A disappointing result for Steve Bruce, especially when you consider their play of late. Going down two goals at St. Andrews after nearly winning at Old Trafford is rather difficult to swallow. Sunderland only showed up for the game's last 30 minutes, turning their pressure into an own goal. They couldn't muster an equalizer and will look to recover next weekend.
Stoke 1, Tottenham 0
Harry Redknapp and Tottenham just couldn't find a way past Steve Simonsen, a late addition as first choice keeper Thomas Sorensen was a late scratch with the flu. Stoke's defending was top class, with a miraculous save off the line by James Beattie and numerous saves by Simonsen. The defense allowed an 86th minute winner off the boot of Glenn Whelan.
Arsenal 2, West Ham 2
A disappointing result for Arsenal, a club that claims title ambitions. But after going ahead against West Ham on the road through Robin Van Persie and William Gallas, Arsenal looked to stroll through the rest of the match. Typical Arsenal emerged in the second half, and the hosts took advantage of a Vito Manone mistake to draw one back, then grabbed a point when Alex Song tripped Carlton Cole, allowing West Ham to tie.
Bolton 3, Everton 2
A depleted Everton came to the Reebok in hope of at least a point — and they nearly had it. Bolton jumped out to the lead through goals from Lee Chung-Yong and Gary Cahill, but a stunner from Louis Saha and a Marouane Fellaini finish brought the visitors level. But just when a point was in their grasp, a woozy Ivan Klasnic beat Tim Howard in the 86th minute, leaving Everton empty handed.
Portsmouth 0, Hull City 0
It was about as dull as watching paint dry, and neither side could manage to find the back of the net. Perhaps the biggest talking point here was the absence of Jozy Altidore, who came in late to the stadium and was dropped from the side. Hull was lucky to be left with a point in this one, as Pompey failed to add to their season goal tally of five.
Wigan 3, Burnley 1
The Turf Moor unbeaten run ended Saturday, as a surprising Wigan side made it look easy against Burnley. It was a brilliant start for Burnley, as Steven Fletcher scored a fourth minute goal to give the hosts the lead. Brian Jensen had another howler, slipping in the box to allow Hugo Rodallega to equalize. The good day for Wigan continued, as Rodallega then smashed home a second goal, with Emerson Boyce rounding out the day's work.