Cristiano Ronaldo struck both goals including a superb free kick as Manchester United beat Portsmouth 2-0 on Tuesday to cruise back to the top of the English Premier League.
Chelsea maintained their title challenge with a 1-0 victory over Reading at Stamford Bridge with Michael Ballack on target while Liverpool's league season went from bad to worse with a 1-0 defeat at West Ham United.
Displaced by Arsenal 24 hours earlier, United tore into Portsmouth at Old Trafford and had the points in the bag after 13 minutes courtesy of the Portuguese who took his goal tally for the season to 27.
After 10 minutes he chested the ball to Nani and sped on to the return pass before shooting under David James.
Three minutes later he left James shaking his head in disbelief with a free kick that started straight down the middle before swerving away into the top corner.
"It was a marvellous hit," manager Alex Ferguson told Sky Sports. "No goalkeeper in the world would have saved that. It's the best free kick I've seen in the Premier League."
United have 57 points, the same as Arsenal who beat Newcastle United 3-0 on Tuesday, but with a better goal difference. Chelsea have 53 points.
"We wanted to get back to the top because we are coming up to a tricky part of the season now with the Champions League about to start again," added Ferguson, who used several squad players to see off Portsmouth.
Ballack's first-half header made sure Chelsea stay on the heels of the leading two even if they were far from impressive in racking up a ninth consecutive victory in all competitions.
It was also Chelsea's 76th unbeaten league game at Stamford Bridge, stretching back four years.
Everton stay fourth with 43 points after a 0-0 draw at home to Tottenham Hotspur. They are now three points ahead of Liverpool who are in seventh spot and struggling to even qualify for next season's Champions League.
Liverpool had the better chances at Upton Park but Jamie Carragher's stoppage time foul on Freddie Ljungberg allowed Noble to clinch the points and pile more pressure on Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.
Manchester City climbed above Liverpool into sixth place but were held 1-1 at bottom club Derby County who picked up just their eighth points of the season.