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Man City stays ahead of Man United at top -- just

Manchester City's David Silva, fourth right, is congratulated by team mates after scoring a goal against Arsenal during their English Premier League soccer match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011. Manchester City's David Silva, fourth right, is congratulated by team mates after scoring a goal against Arsenal during their English Premier League soccer match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Tim Hales)
December 18, 2011
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LONDON—Manchester City's expensively assembled squad showed Sunday that it may have the character as well as the talent necessary to win the Premier League, beating Arsenal 1-0 to stay on top.

Manchester United's 2-0 win at Queens Park Rangers in the day's early match meant City knew it had to avoid defeat or lose the top spot it had held since mid-October.

It beat Arsenal 1-0 to stay two points ahead of its local rival.

Mario Balotelli burst into space in the 53rd minute and drew a save from Wojciech Szczesny with a shot low to the goalkeeper's left. The ball rebounded into the six-yard box and David Silva poked it in from close range.

"We watched Man United, so we knew we had a job to do this afternoon," said City goalkeeper Joe Hart, who made a string of saves.

Wayne Rooney scored his 15th goal of the season -- and 12th in the Premier League -- after just 52 seconds at QPR. The England striker headed the ball out to Antonio Valencia on the right and continued his run into the box to meet Valencia's cross with a stooping header into the net.

Michael Carrick then intercepted a pass just inside the United half and advanced to the edge of the area to hit a low shot past goalkeeper Radek Cerny for his first goal in almost two years.

United has 39 points from 16 matches -- five more than at the same stage last season when it went on to win a record 19th English league title -- but City has 41 and has scored an impressive 50 goals.

"We could have scored a lot of goals today," Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said.

Arsenal was left in fifth place with 29 points, its goal tally keeping it ahead of Liverpool, which scored from corner kicks twice in the first 15 minutes for a 2-0 win at Aston Villa.

Craig Bellamy poked in from close range after the ball hit American goalkeeper Brad Guzan and then took a corner on the left, sending the ball onto Martin Skrtel's head for the unmarked defender to score.

"We passed the ball and moved it and hit the bar twice: I think it was well deserved three points for us," Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish said.

Tottenham is again the closest rival to the two Manchester clubs after a 1-0 win over Sunderland took it above Chelsea into third place.

Substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko scored the winning goal in the 61st. Scott Parker slipped the ball upfield to Rafael van der Vaart for a clever reverse pass to Pavlyuchenko, who scored past the diving goalkeeper with a low shot to the far post from the edge of the area.

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MILAN (AP) -- Unbeaten Juventus returned to the top of the Italian league with a 2-0 victory over struggling Novara on Sunday.

Simone Pepe scored in the fourth minute but the result flattered Juventus and veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had to make a string of impressive saves before Fabio Quagliarella added the second goal 15 minutes from the end.

Juventus is two points clear of AC Milan.

Inter Milan's revival gathered pace as Andrea Ranocchia helped it win 1-0 at struggling Cesena. Inter's fifth win in six games moves it up to fifth spot -- 10 points behind Juventus.

Novara is two points clear of bottom place Lecce, which let slip a two-goal lead to draw 3-3 at Parma.

AC Milan took the provisional lead with victory Saturday but Juventus responded to the pressure with the perfect start as Paolo De Ceglie crossed for Pepe to tap home from close range.

Juventus sealed the points when Quaglierella headed in Andrea Pirlo's corner for his first goal in more than a year.

"We were very good in creating opportunities, but less so in finishing them off," Antonio Conte said. "They're risking giving us heart attacks on the bench."

In a game of few chances at Cesena, Inter made it three wins in a row. Ranocchia found himself unmarked in the area shortly after the hour mark and headed home Maicon's free kick.

"I've never seen my team miss so many passes like today," Inter coach Claudio Ranieri said. "This is a game from which we have to just take the points. For entertainment, you had to turn on the TV today at 1130 to watch Barcelona."

Lecce could have given its survival hopes a big boost as it looked to be on course for a 3-1 victory at Parma -- but let the lead slip.

Parma got back into the game four minutes from full time when Lecce substitute goalkeeper Ugo Gabrieli flapped at a cross and the ball fell to Graziano Pelle to score. Daniele Galloppa grabbed the equalizer in stoppage time with a powerful snap shot from the edge of the area.

Catania beat Palermo 2-0 in what is likely to be Maxi Lopez's last home game for the Sicilian side before a likely January transfer to AC Milan. The Argentina international earned and scored a penalty for the second half and was substituted in tears midway through the second half.

"I still don't know what the future holds," Maxi Lopez said. "I think Milan is the most important club in Italy and it would be a great joy for me to join them."

Elsewhere, Bologna is further in trouble after losing 2-1 at Genoa.

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MADRID (AP) -- Atletico Madrid picked up its first home league defeat of the season after going down 2-0 to 10-man Real Betis on Sunday to increase the pressure on coach Gregorio Manzano.

Alex Pozuelo scored in the 54th minute and substitute Roque Santa Cruz added a second in stoppage time to give Betis a second straight victory and boost its own beleaguered coach, Pepe Mel.

Pozuelo was sent off in the 72nd.

"We've played worse than other days and won 2-0. But I've got enough at Betis without worrying about Atletico," said Mel, whose team has just recovered from a 10-game winless slump in the league.

Atletico is without an away win in seven Spanish league matches but its impressive home form had given Manzano some protection.

"You have to value the players' attitude, the effort made," Manzano said. "The result wasn't fair today."

At one point against Betis, home fans in the Vicente Calderon stadium chanted the name of Luis Aragones, the former European Championship-winning Spain coach, who is seen as a potential successor.

Later Sunday, third-place Valencia hosts European hopeful Malaga, while Osasuna welcomes Villarreal, Real Sociedad goes to Racing Santander and Levante visits Granada.

On Saturday, a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Real Madrid to a 6-2 romp at Seville to lead Barcelona by three points atop the standings heading into a three-week winter break.

Defending champion Barcelona was absent, winning the Club World Cup with a 4-0 win over Brazil's Santos.

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AMSTERDAM (AP) -- Jozy Altidore's AZ Alkmaar heads into the Dutch league's winter break with a one-point lead at the top of the standings after a 2-1 loss to NAC Breda on Sunday.

Milano Koenders scored a 90th-minute winner for NAC to hand AZ its third loss of the season. American forward Altidore was subbed off the field at halftime.

Second-place PSV Eindhoven closed the gap at the top with a 5-1 rout of SC Heerenveen. John Guidetti's first-half hat trick inspired Feyenoord to a 3-2 win over title contender FC Twente, which stayed third and five points adrift of AZ.

Ajax beat 10-man ADO The Hague to move level with Twente on 33 points.

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PARIS (AP) -- Bordeaux beat Sochaux 1-0 Sunday to climb to ninth place in the French league after a poor start to the season.

Bordeaux defender Ludovic Sane played a one-two with Yoan Gouffran to fire home a low strike in the 22nd minute.

Fullback Fousseni Diawara scored from close range in the 83rd to boost struggling Ajaccio with a 1-0 home win over Rennes.

Montpellier tops the standings but Paris Saint-Germain could snatch the lead if it beats defending champion Lille later Sunday.

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GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) -- Celtic stayed within four points of Scottish Premier League leader Rangers on Sunday after second-half goals by Gary Hooper and Ki Sung-yueng secured a 2-0 win at St. Johnstone.

Saints goalkeeper Peter Enckelman twice saved from Hooper before the striker put Celtic ahead in the 60th minute with a close-range finish from a corner kick. South Korea midfielder Ki scored from a breakaway four minutes later to seal the win.

Rangers beat Inverness 2-1 on Saturday, with Carlos Bocanegra among the scorers.

Celtic and its fierce Glasgow rival meet on Dec. 28.

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