No sweat for EPL's top three
MANCHESTER, England (AP):
Chelsea and Manchester City kicked off the Premier League's hectic festive schedule with commanding victories yesterday 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 their three-point lead over City, who netted all of their goals in the first half in a 3-1 win at West Bromwich Albion played in a snowstorm.
Only United look 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 make up the top four, climbing above West Ham, thanks to a 3-1 win at Crystal Palace, but there is a slew of teams battling for that fourth and final Champions League spot.
Arsenal are 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 headbutt 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' favourite 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 their 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, who were 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 JosÈ 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 tomorrow when Chelsea head to Southampton, who have recovered from their recent slump and are hard to beat, at St Mary's Stadium. City host Burnley.