For long periods it seemed as if United would be given an unlikely opportunity to begin 2010 as Premier League leaders, but a quickfire late double gave Chelsea a dramatic victory over local rivals Fulham on Monday.
The Cottagers led from the fourth minute at Stamford Bridge through Zoltan Gera's flick, but Didier Drogba equalised on 72 minutes and, just three minutes later, Chris Smalling scored an own-goal to give the Blues a five point lead over second-placed United, who are in action against Wigan on Wednesday.
In Monday's late kick-off at Molineux, Carlos Tevez scored twice as Roberto Mancini's first away game in charge of Manchester City ended in a 3-0 win over Wolves. Javier Garrido scored the other goal from a free-kick.
Tottenham moved up to fourth spot, and within three points of United, with a 2-0 win over West Ham at White Hart Lane, thanks to goals from Luka Modric and former Hammer Jermain Defoe. On-song Birmingham, meanwhile, made it a club record 11 games unbeaten as Cameron Jerome struck the only goal of the game at Stoke.
Further down the table, Burnley's away-day blues continued with a 2-0 defeat at Everton, brought about by second-half goals from James Vaughan and Steven Pienaar, while Darren Bent's double for Sunderland was cancelled out by goals from Blackburn's Morten Gamst Pedersen and El-Hadji Diouf.