The Premier League is the greatest league in the world because a hodge-podge Stoke City side can turn up at Stamford Bridge, having failed to win a league game since 1974, and on the back of a four-game winless streak and give the league leaders the fright of their lives.
On paper, this tie looked a mere formality. But on the pitch, it was anything, but. Chelsea, who was chasing a record-equalling 13 league win on the bounce, started brightly when Gary Cahill put them ahead in the 34th minute only for Martins Indi to equalise shortly after the break.
Chelsea regained the lead thanks to a smart finish by Willian in the 57th minute, but Stoke once again equalised through a Peter Crouch strike, making the team from the Potteries the first to bag a brace against Chelsea since West Ham in a League Cup fixture back in October.
Chelsea didn’t get flustered. Straight from the kick off they headed up the other end of the pitch, and Willian scored Chelsea’s third goal within a minute of the restart. The Premier League’s top marksman, Diego Costa, sealed the victory when he scored his 14th league goal of the season five minutes from time.
Antonio Conte’s side need one more win to set a new Premier League record of 14 successive victories. It won’t be easy, though. Next up on Wednesday, 4 January it’s a visit to White Hart Lane for a clash against an in-form Tottenham side.
Liverpool Keep Pace With Key Victory Over Man City
The bookmakers are making the title race one of two horses after Liverpool beat fellow title contenders Man City in a professional job at Anfield. With the Chelsea juggernaut steaming ahead, Liverpool is doing well to keep in touching distance. The gap remains six points thanks to Georginio Wijnaldum’s second goal of the season, finishing off an Adam Lallana cross with a towering header in the 8th minute.
If the wheels do fall off that Chelsea juggernaut, then Liverpool do look the likeliest to take advantage. Man City and Arsenal have shown a soft backbone in recent weeks, and Spurs and Man Utd are well off the pace after drawing too many games.
Liverpool, on the other hand, is the league’s top scorers with 46, and have conceded fewer shots on goal than any other Premier League side. City, on the other hand, is a work in progress. It was their first defeat after a run of three impressive victories, but it was the manner of the defeat that will bother Pep Guardiola. They were lifeless, lacklustre and limp. Next up an in-form Burnley side at the Etihad.
Wins For Arsenal, Spurs and Man Utd
The usual suspects all won during the New Year fixtures.
Arsenal move within nine points of Chelsea after defeating Crystal Palace at The Emirates. Sam Allardyce had never earned a league win at Arsenal, and with his Palace side still getting used to the orders of a new man it was always going to be a tricky fixture.
The game will be remembered for a sublime piece of skill from Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman started off the move with a neat flick just inside his half of the field, before racing into the box. The cross seemed to be behind Giroud, but he managed to scoop the ball over the Crystal Palace keeper with an audacious backheel straight out of the Henry Mkhitaryan scrapbook. Arsenal sealed the points in the 56th minute thanks to an Alex Iwobi header.
Spurs are only a point behind Arsenal after recording their fourth successive win by thumping Watford by 4-1 at Vicarage Road. Watford had a string of injuries to key players, and it showed. A brace apiece by Dele Alli and Harry Kane handed Spurs the three points. It could have been a whole lot worse. Spurs now face Chelsea, where one of these great winning streaks will finally come to an end.
Man Utd is also enjoying a fruitful run of three-pointers. Their recent 2-1 win over Middlesbrough was their sixth win in all competitions. They had to do it the hard way after coming from a goal down to snatch it late on thanks to goals from Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba after Grant Leadbitter had given Boro a shock lead. United are three points behind City and Spurs in what promises to be one of the greatest races for Champions League qualification in recent times.
The Best of the Rest
Managerless Swansea City remained firmly rooted to the spot after being picked apart by visiting Bournemouth. Swansea legend Alan Curtis held the reins in the wake of Bob Bradley’s inevitable sacking. Goals from Benik Afobe, Ryan Fraser and Josh King pushed the South Coast club into 10th spot.
Sunderland fans will be worrying after Burnley spanked them at Turfmoor. Andre Gray was making a little bit of history as the first Burnley player to score a Premier League hat-trick in a 4-1 win.
And Hull moved within a point of Sunderland after a 2-2 draw with stop-start Everton. Ross Barkley rescuing a point for Ronald Koeman’s side with time running out after Michael Dawson and Robert Snodgrass looked to have sealed all three points for the Tigers.
Finally, West Ham’s mini-revival came to an end at the King Power. New boy Islam Slimani headed the game’s only goal in the 20th minute to end West Ham’s run of three successive victories. The champions are now six points clear of the relegation zone.
Premier League Results (Week 19)
Hull 2 v 2 Everton
Burnley 4 v 1 Sunderland
Man Utd 2 v 1 Middlesbrough
Swansea 0 v 3 Bournemouth
Chelsea 4 v 2 Stoke
Southampton 1 v 2 West Brom
Leicester 1 v 0 West Ham
Liverpool 1 v 0 Man City
Watford 1 v 4 Spurs
Arsenal 2 v 0 Crystal Palace
Premier League Table
1. Chelsea – 49
2. Liverpool – 43
3. Arsenal – 40
4. Spurs – 39
5. Man City – 39
6. Man Utd – 36
7. Everton – 27
8. West Brom – 26
9. Southampton – 24
10. Bournemouth – 24
11. Burnley – 23
12. West Ham – 22
13. Watford – 22
14. Stoke – 21
15. Leicester – 20
16. Middlesbrough – 18
17. Crystal Palace – 16
18. Sunderland – 14
19. Hull – 13
20. Swansea – 12
Premier League Title Odds (Courtesy of Bodog)
Man City 8/1
Man Utd 28/1