Chelsea moved six points clear at the top of the Premier League as Cesc Fabregas’ first-half goal beat a stubborn Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Fabregas steered into the far corner from the edge of the box as the Blues recorded a 10th consecutive league victory.
Sunderland keeper Jordan Pickford saved from former Black Cat Marcos Alonso and Willian to prevent Chelsea from winning by a bigger margin.
The hosts, who had set up to try to nullify their opponent’s attacking strength, had few chances although they could have snatched a point in injury time but Thibaut Courtois superbly denied Patrick van Aanholt.
It was a hard-fought and important win for Chelsea after Arsenal slipped up against Everton on Tuesday and means Antonio Conte’s side will be top of the table at Christmas.
A key element of Chelsea’s run of recent victories has been consistency with Conte having named an unchanged side in eight of the nine games prior to the trip to Sunderland.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp had recently suggested that Chelsea’s good run could falter when either Eden Hazard or Diego Costa picked up an injury, and Wednesday’s game provided an opportunity to see whether that would be the case.
Hazard did not travel after picking up a knock in Chelsea’s 1-0 win over West Brom at the weekend, so he was replaced by Willian. Conte also took the opportunity to rest Nemanja Matic as Fabregas made his first start since 3 December.
Initially, Chelsea appeared to miss Hazard’s creativity as they struggled to find a way to break down a packed Sunderland defence, but Fabregas highlighted the Blues’ strength in depth.
As Sunderland’s seven-man defence frustrated the visitors, Fabregas somehow managed to find the gap to sneak a shot into the far corner and ultimately give Chelsea victory.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck two minutes from time to give Manchester United a vital victory just as it appeared they had squandered another advantage at Crystal Palace.
The 35-year-old Swede slid on to Paul Pogba’s pass to beat Wayne Hennessey from an acute angle after James McArthur’s 66th-minute strike seemed to have rescued a point for a strangely passive Palace.
Pogba’s assist repaid Ibrahimovic for creating his opener in first-half stoppage time – although Palace were furious as claims for a handball in the final pass and offside against the scorer were ignored by referee Craig Pawson.
Pawson had a difficult night and United were angered equally when he ignored a clear handball in his own area from Palace substitute Joe Ledley after the break before Juan Mata’s shot was contentiously ruled out for offside.
In the end, the frustration was Palace’s as Ibrahimovic popped up to secure a United win, their second in succession after beating Tottenham at the weekend, and one that had manager Jose Mourinho on the pitch celebrating with his players at the final whistle.
Adam Lallana scored twice and created another goal to give Liverpool their most emphatic away Premier League win of the season in a dominant display at Middlesbrough.
The Reds arrived at the Riverside Stadium having taken just one point from their past two matches and manager Jurgen Klopp chose to drop goalkeeper Loris Karius.
However, his replacement Simon Mignolet had little to do after Lallana headed home Nathaniel Clyne’s cross before the break as Liverpool seized complete control.
Sadio Mane wasted several opportunities but Lallana was clinical, first crossing slickly for Divock Origi to prod home a fine team goal, then side-footing in a pass from the Belgium striker for the third.
The three-goal margin was enough to move Liverpool second, while Boro – competitive in the first half but abject after the break – drop to 17th.
In other fixtures today West Ham beat Burnley 1-0, Man City scored a double on Watford, Stoke and Southampton shared the points in a goaless affair, Tottenham trounced Hull 3-0 and West Brom beat Swansea 3-1. (BBC)