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Chelsea, City ease to wins in English Premier League

By AP - Dec 27,2014 - Last updated at Dec 27,2014

MANCHESTER, England — 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 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, which scored 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.

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, where Southampton returned after rolling past Crystal Palace 3-1.

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 holiday period. 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.

Arsenal host Queens Park Rangers in the late match.

Leicester’s miserable season back in the top flight continued with a 2-1 home loss to Spurs, leaving the team bottom of the standings 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 their unbeaten start to the campaign, Chelsea have rediscovered their fluent form and the leaders cut down to size a West Ham team enjoying their best season in nearly three decades and which arrived at Stamford Bridge in fourth place.

Terry tapped home from close range in the 31st minute 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 ware 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 their 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 year.

There could be a new twist in the title race on Sunday 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.

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,” Van Gaal said. “We make progress in every game.”

Liverpool began their game at Turf Moor in their 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.

Sterling scored the winner in the 62nd minute, latching onto a lobbed pass from Philippe Coutinho and rounding goalkeeper Tom Heaton to roll a shot into the unguarded net.

Liverpool lost goalkeeper Brad Jones to injury in the 15th minute, meaning an earlier-than-expected recall for Simon Mignolet after he was dropped recently following some error-strewn displays.

Harry Kane scored in the first minute and Christian Eriksen grabbed a 71st-minute winner as Tottenham made it three wins in a row to pile the misery on Leicester.

Swansea beat Aston Villa 1-0 at home thanks to Gylfi Sigurdsson’s brilliant free kick and former Barcelona forward Bojan Krkic scored Stoke’s winning goal at Everton, who are struggling in 12th place.

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