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Reds, City cruise as United held

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Liverpool players celebrate defender Joel Matip’s second goal in their English Premier League match against Southampton at Anfield on Saturday. AFP

Reds, City cruise as United held

Liverpool and Manchester City’s shootout for the Premier League title intensified on Saturday with comfortable wins over Southampton and Cardiff, while Manchester United were held 1-1 by Wolves on the day Alex Ferguson returned to Old Trafford.

Jurgen Klopp could afford the luxury of handing Xherdan Shaqiri his first Liverpool start for a 3-0 victory at Anfield and Wesley Hoedt turned the Swiss international’s deflected shot in for the opener before Joel Matip and Mohamed Salah’s first goal in four games sealed Liverpool’s seventh straight win in all competitions.

City edged ahead of Chelsea, who travel to West Ham on Sunday, into second, two points behind the leaders, as they bounced back from a shock Champions League defeat against Lyon in midweek by thrashing Cardiff 5-0 in the Welsh capital.

United, though, are now eight points off the top as a run of three straight wins to avert an early-season crisis came to an end against an impressive Wolves while Ferguson watched on for the first time since undergoing emergency surgery on a brain haemorrhage in May.

Tottenham moved ahead of United into fifth as Harry Kane ended his five-game goal drought from the penalty spot in a 2-1 win at Brighton to end a run of three straight defeats for Spurs.

Liverpool’s new-found strength in depth was in evidence at Anfield as Klopp made three changes from the side that beat Paris Saint-Germain in midweek and Shaqiri and Matip made a big impact in their first starts of the season.

The hosts were handed a huge helping hand early on by Saints thanks to a comical own goal by Hoedt as he failed to sort his feet out as Shaqiri’s deflected drive trickled across the area.

Matip powered home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner before Salah won the foot race to force the ball over the line after a Shaqiri free-kick came back off the bar.

Liverpool’s afternoon was soured, though, by a rib injury to Virgil van Dijk that forced the world’s most expensive defender off early in the second period ahead of a demanding run of fixtures.

“Winning seven in a row is cool but challenges will get tougher and tougher. The boys are in good shape and that helps,” Klopp said.

Klopp’s men face Chelsea and City in their next two league games, with a Champions League trip to Napoli in between.

Wolves blight Ferguson welcome

Ferguson was given a standing ovation before kick-off at Old Trafford as he took his seat accompanied by his wife Cathy in the United directors’ box.

However, the presence of the club’s most successful manager failed to inspire United to victory despite Fred’s first goal for the club 18 minutes in.

Wolves have thoroughly impressed on their return to the top flight and Joao Moutinho curled into the top corner eight minutes into the second half.

“They deserved their point and we deserve the punishment of only getting one point. They started better, were more aggressive, had more intent and, I don’t know why, but they were more motivated,” United boss Jose Mourinho grumbled.

Sergio Aguero celebrated signing a new contract until 2021 on Friday by firing home the opener as City returned to winning ways in emphatic fashion.

Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan made it 3-0 before half-time.

Club-record signing Riyad Mahrez then came off the bench to score his first two City goals.

At Brighton, Tottenham eased the pressure on Mauricio Pochettino as Kane fired home from the spot before Erik Lamela doubled the visitors’ lead 14 minutes from time.

Anthony Knockaert set up a grandstand finish in stoppage time, but Spurs held out in sodden conditions on the south coast for a huge win after a tough couple of weeks.

“I am happy with the three points but more with the performance and the reaction,” a relieved Pochettino said.

“The way we conceded was crazy. One minute from the end, we should be more vigilant and focused.”

Elsewhere, Burnley were the big winners, thrashing Bournemouth 4-0 for their first league win of the season to move out of the bottom three.

Leicester came from behind to beat Huddersfield 3-1, while Watford remain fourth despite conceding late to draw 1-1 at Fulham.

Newcastle remain in the relegation zone despite holding out for a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace for just their second point of the season.

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