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Monday, Sep. 26, 2011

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Use your head: Stoke's Peter Crouch competes for the ball against United's Rio Ferdinand on Saturday at Britannia Stadium in Stoke, England. The match ended 1-1. AP

United drops first points of season; City, Chelsea take advantage


LONDON — Premier League leader Manchester United dropped its first points of the season by drawing 1-1 with Stoke as Manchester City and Chelsea both claimed victories to narrow the gap at the top on Saturday.

Despite being without star striker Wayne Rooney, who missed the game with a hamstring injury, United looked like grabbing a sixth straight win when Portugal winger Nani opened the scoring in the 27th minute.

However, England striker Peter Crouch stopped the United juggernaut by equalizing with a powerful header 12 minutes after halftime, his first goal for Stoke since joining for a club record £10 million pounds ($15.5 million) on transfer deadline day.

United is now only first on goal difference from City, which needed second-half goals by substitutes Mario Balotelli and James Milner to earn a 2-0 win over Everton.

Chelsea is three points further back after beating visiting Swansea 4-1, with Spain striker Fernando Torres scoring for the second straight game but then getting sent off for the hosts.

Demba Ba grabbed a hat trick for Newcastle in a 3-1 home win over Blackburn, consolidating fourth position for the in-form northeast club, while Liverpool climbed to fifth by beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 at Anfield — the team's first win in three league games.

Resurgent Tottenham beat Wigan 2-1 away to claim a third straight win while Netherlands striker Robin van Persie scored twice for Arsenal — his second the 100th for the club — in a 3-0 victory over Bolton that eased the pressure on under-fire manager Arsene Wenger.

In the day's other match, Fulham held West Bromwich Albion to a 0-0 draw in a game between two of the division's bottom four.

United didn't just drop its first points of the campaign, it also saw Mexico striker Javier Hernandez limp off in the 10th minute while center back Jonny Evans hurt himself in the warmup to join an injury list that already includes Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and now Rooney.

Nani put United ahead by exchanging passes with Darren Fletcher before placing a low, left-foot shot into the bottom corner, but the visitors only went into halftime on level terms thanks to good saves by David de Gea from Crouch, Andy Wilkinson and Jon Walters.

The Spanish goalkeeper could do nothing about Crouch's equalizer as United joined Liverpool and Chelsea in failing to beat Stoke at the Britannia Stadium this season.

"We worked so hard — I've never known team spirit like it," Crouch said.

Messi, Ronaldo shine


Barcelona, Spain — Lionel Messi scored a dazzling hat trick to lead Barcelona to a 5-0 win over Atletico Madrid on a night when fellow Spanish League star Cristiano Ronaldo also netted three as 10-man Real Madrid downed Rayo Vallecano 6-2.

The game at the Nou Camp was billed as a duel between Atletico's Radamel Falcao and two-time world player of the year Messi.

But Atletico's new striker didn't touch the ball until 30 minutes in, and by then Messi had already followed up David Villa's opener by forcing an own goal by Miranda and adding a third to set Barcelona on its way to its fifth straight home win over the visitors.

Messi then went on to cap the victory with two late goals to pass Ronaldo as the league's top scorer with eight goals.

"It was a difficult game considering how well Atletico had been playing and we handled it well," said Messi, who has scored two hat tricks in five games this season. "They have a great team . . . but we scored quickly and then knew how to manage the game."

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