Chelsea landed a potentially decisive blow in the title race with a 2-1 win at Aston Villa on Saturday...
Chelsea landed a potentially decisive blow in the title race with a 2-1 win at Aston Villa on Saturday that put them seven points clear of Manchester City who hit the self-destruct button in a 1-1 draw at home to Hull City.
It briefly looked like both the top two may drop points when Villa ended a near 11-hour goal drought to level the scores at Villa Park but a thunderous finish from Branislav Ivanovic maximised the embarrassment for Chelsea’s main title rivals.
City needed a stoppage-time free kick from James Milner to rescue a point against relegation-threatened Hull but it still left them winless since the start of the month when midfielder Yaya Toure packed his bags for the African Nations Cup.
Prolific Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane marked his first north London derby against Arsenal with a double strike that hauled his side back from a goal down to win 2-1, moving them above their neighbours into fifth place in the Premier League.
Southampton scored deep into stoppage time to beat Queens Park Rangers 1-0 and climb back into third place in an increasingly congested scrap for a top-four finish.
Liverpool, in seventh spot, dropped further off the pace with a soporific goalless stalemate against Everton at Goodison Park.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini thought last week’s draw at Chelsea might prove a turning point after a dismal January but their recent failings were again in evidence against Hull.
Their defence was again exposed by Hull’s gentle probing and when the visitors hit the woodwork early on, it was not a wake-up call but a warning and David Meyler gobbled up a rebound to give them the lead after 35 minutes.
When City waved goodbye to Toure they could not have imagined they would not win a league game in his absence.
Again they struggled for inspiration in midfield and looked likely to drop all three points until Milner curled home from 25 metres.
If they wanted a lesson in how to manage the relentless pursuit of points that you need to win the league, it was provided by Chelsea.
Jose Mourinho’s side took the lead when their terrific triumvirate of Oscar, Willian and Eden Hazard all linked up, with the latter sliding in to finish after eight minutes.
One goal has usually been enough to beat Villa in recent weeks but they found the net, after drawing a blank in their last six games, when centre back Jores Okore headed in from six metres but parity lasted only until Ivanovic drilled home.
It was a maiden victory for Mourinho at Villa Park and took his team to 56 points from 24 games — not that complacency is part of the Portuguese’s vocabulary.
“It is one more hurdle in the title race but there are many more,” Mourinho told the BBC.
“Every game is difficult. It is possibly the only league in Europe where teams from the bottom can play against the top ones and not just make things difficult but win points.”
A Tottenham win against an Arsene Wenger Arsenal side is a relatively rare occurrence, which made Kane’s double strike all the sweeter for the home fans.
The derby looked like following a familiar pattern when Mesut Ozil put Arsenal ahead but Kane levelled with a tap-in from close range before producing a superb header to give Spurs 43 points, one ahead of Arsenal.
Sadio Mane lashed the ball home to lift Southampton up to third with 45 points, six clear of Liverpool who drew with Everton in a lifeless clash that was probably Steven Gerrard’s last involvement in a Merseyside derby.
Crystal Palace’s resurgence under Alan Pardew continued with a 1-0 win at Leicester City while Swansea City and Sunderland drew 1-1.