Rooney puts United back on top

LONDON: Wayne Rooney fired Manchester United back to the top of the Premier League

as his double-strike

inspired a 3-0 win over Fulham, while Adam Johnson’s first Manchester City goal rescued a 1-1 draw at Sunderland on Sunday.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s team had been knocked off top spot by Chelsea’s victory against West Ham on Saturday, but Rooney struck 30 seconds after half-time at Old Trafford and added his 32nd goal of the season in the closing stages. Dimitar Berbatov headed United’s third goal in the last minute to ensure the champions moved two points clear of the Blues and third-placed Arsenal. Ferguson believes in-form Rooney should be able to surpass Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 42 goals in a season.

United had lost 3-0 at Fulham earlier this season but Rooney, who has now scored 16 goals in his last 11 United appearances, broke their resistance when he met Nani’s cross with a first-time finish that flashed past Mark Schwarzer from 10 yards out. England forward Rooney put the result beyond doubt when he swept in Berbatov’s 84th minute cross. Berbatov sealed the rout with a diving header from South Korea winger Park Ji-Sung’s 89th minute cross.

At the Stadium of Light, City were hoping to keep pace with fourth-placed Tottenham in the race for the final Champions League spot. Roberto Mancini’s team suffered an early setback as Kenwyne Jones headed home Steed Malbranque’s cross in the ninth minute.

City dominated the second half, with Argentine forward Carlos Tevez forcing Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon to make a superb close-range save. Gordon also denied Craig Bellamy twice but he could do nothing about former Middlesbrough winger Johnson’s superb curling effort

in stoppage time which moved City within two points of Tottenham.

Spanish La Liga

Madrid: Lionel Messi scored a sensational hat-trick to take his season’s

tally to 22 goals as Barcelona registered a 3-0 home

victory over 10-man Valencia in the Spanish Primera Liga on Sunday.

Argentine Messi showed why he is regarded as the world’s best player with three terrific individual

second-half goals earning him a standing ovation

at the Camp Nou as Barca moved three points clear

of Real Madrid.

Real, reeling from their last 16 Champions League exit to Lyon in midweek, reclaimed the top spot with a 4-1 victory over second from bottom Valladolid later on Sunday. Gonzalo Higuain netted a clinical hat-trick after Cristiano Ronaldo had put Real Madrid ahead.

Villarreal closed to within six points of the top six

enhancing their hopes of qualifying for the Europa League with a 2-0 home victory against Xerez at El Madrigal on Saturday.