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Chelsea overpowered West Ham United and Manchester City outclassed West Bromwich Albion as the Premier League title rivals signalled their intent at the start of a hectic holiday programme on Friday.
Goals from John Terry and Diego Costa helped leaders Chelsea to a dominant 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge before City overwhelmed West Brom 3-1 at a snowy Hawthorns — Fernando, Yaya Tour and David Silva on target for the champions.
Wayne Rooney struck twice for chasing Manchester United in a 3-1 home win over Newcastle United while Southampton’s return to form was underlined by a 3-1 victory at Crystal Palace which lifted the Saints back into the top four.
Terry tapped in Chelsea’s opener after 31 minutes and Costa sealed the points for Jose Mourinho’s side, although the scoreline disguised a gulf in quality between the two sides who were separated by only three places in the table at kickoff.
West Ham ground out a 0-0 draw in the corresponding fixture last year when Mourinho accused them of playing 19th Century football but once Terry had scored they offered little. Chelsea moved to 45 points from 18 games, three more than champions City and 10 ahead of United.
Tottenham Hotspur beat bottom club Leicester City 2-1 for a third successive league win, Harry Kane again on target for the London club who moved up to sixth, just ahead of Swansea City who beat Aston Villa 1-0.
While the race for top-four places looks like being a long, drawn out affair, Chelsea along with Man City, who have won seven league games in succession, look like going head to head for top spot in the New Year.
“Football is football, you never know and the only thing we can do to try to reduce the unpredictability of football is to do what we’re doing: playing very well,” Mourinho said.
The first half hour was one-way traffic and the only surprise was that Chelsea did not score before Terry turned the ball over the line after Costa flicked on a Cesc Fabregas corner. It was Terry’s second goal in successive league games. Costa, whose goal tally had slowed in recent weeks after an explosive start to his Chelsea career, showed his pedigree when he received a pass from Eden Hazard just past the hour mark and lashed a left-foot shot past goalkeeper Adrian.
Chelsea had numerous other chances to score with West Ham’s only flurry coming near the end when substitute Morgan Amalfitano dinked an effort against the post.
City responded emphatically and were out of sight before halftime at West Brom. West Brom keeper Ben Foster dropped the ball at the feet of Fernando after eight minutes to gift the visitors their opener and Toure’s spot-kick made it 2-0. Silva stroked in the third after 34 minutes to end the game as a contest.
Raheem Sterling scored the only goal as Liverpool won at Burnley but Merseyside rivals Everton continue to struggle, losing 1-0 at home to Stoke City. Hull City ended a run of 10 league games without a win by beating Sunderland 3-1 away.
Arsenal host Queens Park Rangers later on Friday.