Under pressure from the chasing pack and rocked on their heels by a Charlie Adam bolt from the blue, Chelsea showed cool heads to extend their Premier League to seven points on Saturday with a 2-1 home win over Stoke City.
Arsenal’s 4-1 thrashing of faltering Liverpool and Manchester United’s 3-1 victory over Aston Villa moved them into second and third places respectively before Chelsea kicked off at Stamford Bridge.
When Adam launched a 60-metre missile from inside his own half just before halftime to cancel out Eden Hazard’s penalty it could have provoked a few jitters but Chelsea held firm to claim three points after Loic Remy tapped in following a bad mistake from Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic.
They have 70 points from 30 games with Arsenal on 63 and Manchester United on 62, both having played a game more.
Champions Manchester City can reduce the gap to six if they beat Crystal Palace on Monday, but the reality is that Chelsea need 16 points to win the title for the first time since 2010.
The main talking points, however, were Adam’s freakish goal and a worrying injury to Chelsea’s leading striker Diego Costa who limped off with a hamstring problem shortly after coming on as a halftime substitute.
“I don’t know but a couple of weeks minimum,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho told Sky Sports when asked about the injury to Costa, who had just been passed fit after a similar injury.
Mourinho was impressed by Adam’s goal.
“It was a goal every super player in the world would like to score, from the Messis, to Maradonas to the Peles,” he said.
While Chelsea have been labouring in recent weeks, Arsenal are showing belated title-winning form and they notched a 10th win in 11 league games in a rout of Liverpool.
Brendan Rodgers’s side, desperate to boost their top-four ambitions seemed to have weathered an early storm at The Etihad, but collapsed as Hector Bellerin, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez scored in an eight-minute spell before halftime.
Jordan Henderson reduced the arrears from the penalty spot but Liverpool had Emre Can sent off for a second booking and Olivier Giroud put the icing on the cake for Arsenal with a superb curling shot in the last minute.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger played down his side’s hopes of reeling in Chelsea, although the leaders still have to play Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool.
“What we can master now mathematically is the top four, where we will finish,” he told reporters.
“For the title we need us to be perfect and Chelsea not to be perfect, so let’s focus on what we can master.”
Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera scored at the end of each half and Wayne Rooney added a spectacular strike in between as United moved above Man City into third place.
“We are looking up and we have to win every week, but anything is possible,” United boss Louis Van Gaal said.
Liverpool’s top-four hopes are fading fast and they are on 54 points in fifth place, seven behind Man City.
“It was a game we needed to take something from,” Rodgers said.
“We didn’t defend well enough in key moments of the game.”
It was a good day for teams striving to avoid relegation.
Andy King’s scrambled late goal earned bottom club Leicester City a precious 2-1 home win over West Ham United, their first in nine, and 18th-placed Queens Park Rangers crushed 10-man West Bromwich Albion 4-1 for a rare away victory.
Hull City’s worries deepened, however, after a 3-1 loss at Swansea City.
Leicester are still four points adrift of 17th-placed Sunderland who play Newcastle United on Sunday, but QPR are only a point below the relegation cut-off.
Everton all but ensured safety with a 1-0 win over Southampton whose hopes of a top-four spot now look forlorn.