Wins for Chelsea, City keep title race sizzling
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Chelsea and Manchester City kicked off the Premier League’s hectic festive schedule with commanding victories Friday to keep the title race finely poised, while Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool also won on a successful day for the country’s top teams.
John Terry and Diego Costa scored as Chelsea beat West Ham 2-0 to retain its three-point lead over City, which netted all of its goals in the first half in a 3-1 win at West Bromwich Albion played in a snowstorm.
Only United looks capable of gatecrashing the fight for the title between the top two, with Wayne Rooney scoring twice to set up a 3-1 win over Newcastle that tightened the 20-time champions’ grip on third place — seven points behind City.
Southampton makes up the top four, climbing above West Ham thanks to a 3-1 win at Crystal Palace, but there are a slew of teams battling for that fourth and final Champions League spot.
Arsenal is only two points behind in sixth after beating Queens Park Rangers 2-1, with Alexis Sanchez making up for his saved penalty and teammate Olivier Giroud’s reckless red card for a head-butt with a goal and an assist at Emirates Stadium.
Liverpool built on recent encouraging performances by eking out a 1-0 win at Burnley through Raheem Sterling’s second-half goal to keep in sight of the top four.
Tottenham and Swansea were other teams in the top half to register wins in the first of three rounds of league fixtures over seven days across the relentless holiday period. In the other games, Stoke beat Everton 1-0 and Hull snapped a 10-game winless run by defeating Sunderland 3-1 to climb out of the relegation zone.
Leicester’s miserable season back in the top flight continued with a 2-1 home loss to Spurs, leaving the team in last place and six points from safety. A winless run of 13 games is piling the pressure on Nigel Pearson, who is the British bookmakers’ favorite to become the first manager fired in the Premier League this season.
Since losing 2-1 at Newcastle to end its unbeaten start to the campaign, Chelsea has rediscovered its fluency and the leaders cut down to size a West Ham team enjoying its best season in nearly three decades, arriving at Stamford Bridge in fourth place.
Terry tapped home from close range in the 31st following a downward header from a corner from Costa, who made it 2-0 in the 62nd with a low finish for his 13th goal in the season.
It was a dominant performance from Chelsea, which was barely troubled until the last few minutes.
“The challenge this season was to bring that creativity, that dynamism, without losing the good defensive qualities of the team,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said. “In this moment, we have a good balance.”
Playing without a striker for the second straight game, City relied on its midfielders for goals in blizzard-like conditions at The Hawthorns and they obliged through Fernando, Yaya Toure — from the penalty spot — and David Silva.
It was City’s seventh straight win in the league, with the defending champions showing the kind of form that swept them to a second title in three years last season.
There could be a new twist in the title race on Sunday when Chelsea heads to Southampton, which has recovered from its recent slump and is hard to beat at St. Mary’s Stadium. City hosts Burnley.
Rooney, starting again in central midfield, scored in the 23rd and 36th minutes before setting up Robin van Persie for United’s other goal at Old Trafford to help extend the team’s unbeaten run to eight games.
“I was very pleased because we dominated for 90 minutes,” United manager Louis van Gaal said. “We make progress in every game.”
Liverpool began its game at Turf Moor in its lowest Christmas position since 1992-93. But a change of formation to 3-4-3 has rejuvenated last season’s runner-up and they recovered from a slow start at Burnley to record a first victory in four matches, climbing to ninth and seven points behind Southampton.
Sterling scored the winner in the 62nd, latching onto a lobbed pass from Philippe Coutinho and rounding the goalkeeper to roll a shot into the unguarded net.
After having an early penalty saved, Sanchez scored Arsenal’s opener against QPR before setting up Tomas Rosicky for the second in the 65th. In between, Giroud was sent off for head-butting QPR defender Nedum Onuoha and Arsenal held on desperately to consign the visitors to a record-equalling ninth straight away loss.