Off-colour Manchester City go top, Manchester United win again
London: Manchester City took over at the top of the Premier League table on Saturday but only after weathering heavy pressure from Crystal Palace in a narrow 1-0 home victory.
Having described the English festive fixture schedule as "not normal", City manager Manuel Pellegrini made six changes to his side and Palace almost took full advantage at the Etihad Stadium.
City goalkeeper Joe Hart was left with an ugly cut beneath his left eye after saving at the feet of Cameron Jerome in the first half and it was to mark the start of a frantic afternoon for the England man.
He saved brilliantly from Jason Puncheon and Mile Jedinak, while Marouane Chamakh headed wide from eight yards out as Palace looked to continue their impressive recent form under new manager Tony Pulis.
With half an hour remaining, Pellegrini sent on Samir Nasri and Alvaro Negredo, and in the 66th minute the hosts made the breakthrough when Edin Dzeko slammed home from Jesus Navas`s cut-back.
Hart`s work was not finished, however, and he had to produce another fine stop to deny Joel Ward before City could celebrate their ninth consecutive home success this season.
Victory took City two points above previous leaders Arsenal, who visit Newcastle United on Sunday.
Manchester United closed to within two points of the Champions League places after recording a sixth consecutive victory in all competitions with a 1-0 win at Norwich City.
The defending champions were without Wayne Rooney due to a groin injury and needed the half-time introduction of Danny Welbeck to secure victory at Carrow Road.
David Moyes`s side had laboured until then but in the 57th minute a favourable ricochet off Javier Hernandez set Welbeck free and he rounded England team-mate John Ruddy before sliding in the winning goal.
The win took United level on points with fifth-place Everton, although they have now played a game more than all of the teams above them apart from City.
On Sunday, Everton host Southampton while third-place Chelsea tackle fourth-place Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
Elsewhere, relegation rivals West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion played out a richly entertaining 3-3 draw at Upton Park.
West Ham led twice, first through Joe Cole and then Kevin Nolan, but on each occasion they were pegged back by the visitors, who remain without a permanent head coach following the sacking of Steve Clarke.
Nicolas Anelka broke his West Brom duck with a quick-fire brace to cancel out Cole`s fourth-minute opener and put the away team ahead, with Saido Berahino netting a 69th-minute equaliser after goals from Modibo Maiga and Nolan had restored West Ham`s lead.
The goal from Berahino, who later hit the post from a free-kick, prevented West Ham from climbing out of the relegation zone and left West Brom two points above the bottom three in 15th.
Fulham also remain in the relegation zone after a 6-0 humiliation at Hull City, who prevailed through goals from Ahmed Elmohamady, George Boyd, Tom Huddlestone and Matty Fryatt, and a Robert Koren brace.
Aston Villa were held to a 1-1 draw by Swansea City, for whom Roland Lamah cancelled out Gabriel Agbonlahor`s seventh-minute opener with a back-post header nine minutes before half-time.
Cardiff City will start life without sacked manager Malky Mackay later on Saturday when they host bottom club Sunderland in the final game of the day.