Prolific Van Persie keeps United top of EPL

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Associated Press

Posted on November 29, 2012 at 12:01 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 29 at 12:04 AM

LONDON (AP) — Robin van Persie preserved Manchester United's narrow lead in the Premier League with the quickest goal of the season, scoring after 32 seconds in a 1-0 victory over West Ham on Wednesday.

Defending champion Manchester City remained a point behind its neighbor with a 2-0 victory at Wigan on goals by Mario Balotelli and James Milner, but Rafa Benitez's tough start as interim Chelsea manager continued with a 0-0 home draw against Fulham.

The point at least lifted Chelsea into third place above West Bromwich Albion, which lost 3-1 at Swansea to end a four-match winning run in the league.

Tottenham climbed to fifth place by beating Liverpool 2-1, with Spurs winger Gareth Bale scoring at both ends, while Arsenal was held to a 1-1 tie at Everton after also taking the lead after less than a minute through Theo Walcott.

Stoke came from behind to beat Newcastle 2-1, a fourth straight loss for the visitors, while Mark Clattenburg — the referee at the center of recent racism accusations — made his return to the middle in Southampton's 1-1 draw at home to Norwich.

Benitez was greeted with roars of disapproval prior to his first match in charge — a 0-0 home draw with Man City on Sunday — but fans gave him a less hostile reception three days on.

Instead, there was a general feeling of apathy around Stamford Bridge which lingered throughout a listless encounter at Stamford Bridge, which Fulham edged.

Chelsea has clearly improved defensively under the pragmatic Benitez but its attacking spark that marked its bright start to the season has disappeared. Boos rang out at the final whistle, with Chelsea having created few clear-cut chances in front of watching owner Roman Abramovich.

"It's still a long way to go. We have to keep going. We'll have chances," Benitez said.

The Spaniard needs a slice of luck that Van Persie was granted at Old Trafford, with the Netherlands striker's shot looping up off James Collins and over stranded goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen for his ninth goal of the campaign.

"We got a great start," said Ferguson, whose side has more often than not conceded first this season. "You hope to go on from a start like that and some of our football was very good, but we never quite finished them off."

For City, it was the complete opposite, starting sluggishly at Wigan but ending well to maintain its unbeaten start. The champions' goals came in the space of four minutes, with Balotelli marking his return to the starting lineup by burying a loose ball in the 69th.

Milner, a second-half substitute, wrapped up victory in the 72nd, only to go off injured before the final whistle with a hamstring problem.

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MADRID (AP) — David Villa scored twice as Barcelona eased into the fifth round of the Copa del Rey with a 3-1 home win against Alaves to advance 4-1 on aggregate.

Alaves silenced the Camp Nou ahead of celebrations to mark its 113th birthday later this month by taking the lead when Borja Viguera headed Miquel "Miki" Martinez's long-range cross into the net in the 17th minute.

Adriano equalized in the 35th after beating a defender and then skillfully striking the ball low, beneath approaching goalkeeper Sergio Herrera.

Cristian Tello was felled in the 56th, earning a free kick that Villa converted for his 300th professional goal with a beautifully struck shot. Four minutes later, he added another from an assist by Tello.

Villa's goals steadied the home team and led to some fluid, fast-passing play, culminating in a shot just over the crossbar by Tello in the 68th and another inches wide by Villa a minute later.

Sevilla beat Espanyol 3-0 to advance 6-1 on aggregate. On Monday, Espanyol fired Mauricio Pochettino after four years in charge as coach. His replacement, Javier Aguirre, wasn't present to oversee the match.

Valencia, Levante, Atletico Madrid and Getafe also progressed after second legs in the round of 32.

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Leader Bayern Munich labored to a 2-0 victory over 10-man Freiburg, while Bayer Leverkusen won 4-1 at Werder Bremen to move into second place in the Bundesliga.

Leverkusen has won five of its past six games and moved past defending champion Borussia Dortmund, which drew 1-1 at home against Fortuna Duesseldorf on Tuesday.

Leverkusen is 10 points behind Bayern, which earned the unofficial title of "autumn champion" with three matches to spare before the winter break, the earliest a team has achieved that distinction.

"There are still some matches to play, we want to extend our lead," said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm, who provided the pass for Vitaliy Tymoshchuk's goal in the 79th minute that secured victory.

Dortmund travels to Munich on Saturday for the featured match of the season, trailing Bayern by 11 points.

Stuttgart edged out last-place Augsburg 2-1 and Borussia Moenchengladbach beat Wolfsburg 2-0 in other matches Wednesday. Nuremberg beat Hoffenheim 4-2, the loss putting coach Markus Babbel under more pressure.

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PARIS (AP) — Bafetimbi Gomis scored a hat trick as Lyon thrashed Marseille 4-1 to climb above Paris Saint-Germain to the top of the French league.

Steed Malbranque was the other scorer for the visitors before Loic Remy grabbed a 77th-minute consolation for Marseille, which had Rod Fanni dismissed late on.

Also, Montpellier and Lille progressed to the semifinals of the French League Cup by beating Nice 3-2 and Bastia 3-0, respectively. St. Etienne advanced to the last four on Tuesday by beating PSG on penalties.

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