United, who finished seventh last season, continued to recover from their poor start to the campaign with a fortunate 2-1 win at high-flying Southampton on Monday that lifted them into third place for the first time since August 2013.

By contrast, last term's runners-up Liverpool are ninth and suffered an early Champions League exit with a 1-1 home draw in their final group game against FC Basel on Tuesday.

The Anfield club have struggled to recapture the form that took them to the brink of the title and, after two wins in their last six league matches -- including a 0-0 home draw with Sunderland on Saturday -- they have 21 points.

United striker Robin van Persie scored both goals in the victory at Southampton and three strikes in as many games have helped silence the critics following his poor early form.

The Netherlands captain said he and his team mates, who are eight points adrift of leaders Chelsea with 28 after 15 games, are finding their top form.

"The next game is Liverpool, so we're looking forward to that," Van Persie said. "We are really happy that we are on the way up now. We have to keep the momentum going."

Table-topping Chelsea will look to bounce back when third-bottom Hull City visit Stamford Bridge on Saturday after Jose Mourinho's side suffered their first defeat of the season in a 2-1 loss at Newcastle United last weekend.

Chelsea had already qualified for the Champions League last-16 with a game to spare before easing past Sporting Lisbon 3-1 in their final group game on Wednesday.

Second-placed Manchester City took full advantage of Chelsea's slip by moving within three points of the leaders with a battling 1-0 home win against Everton.

However, they will have to do without their top scorer Sergio Aguero, who could miss up to six weeks with a knee injury, for Saturday's trip to bottom club Leicester City.

City reached the Champions League knockout stage with a gritty 2-0 victory at AS Roma on Wednesday.

West Ham United, exceeding all expectations in fourth, visit Sunderland while Southampton, who have slipped to fifth,  will look to halt a run of three straight defeats when they travel to second-bottom Burnley on Saturday.

Latest News from Sports News Desk