LONDON: One quality demanded of a title-winning team is the ability to win when not playing well and Chelsea beat Newcastle 2-0 to record a 10th straight home league win despite a scrappy performance.
Victory moved them back two points clear in the Premier League after Manchester City allowed Everton to grab a 1-1 draw at Goodison. Previously Jose Mourinho’s men led the table only on alphabetical order since Chelsea and City had similar points, goal difference and goals scored.
Moussa Sissoko hit the post early on for managerless Newcastle as Blues struggled. But then a quickly-taken corner led to the opening goal from Oscar and a superb team move provided league top scorer Diego Costa with his 15th goal of term.
Chelsea had drawn at Southampton and lost at Tottenham in their previous league games while manager Mourinho faces an FA disciplinary charge over his criticism of referees. Hence he sulked out of sight after the game and left assistant Steve Holland to explain that Petr Cech had been recalled in goal because Thibaut Courtois had a finger injury.
Talk of Cech moving on has been silenced. The only goalkeeper leaving was Australian veteran Mark Schwarzer who has gone to Leicester. Cech’s continuance may remind Courtois – especially after the five goals the Belgian conceded against Spurs – that he is not yet as good a goalkeeper as his own comments suggest he thinks he is.
Between them Courtois and Cech have maintained five successive clean sheets at Stamford Bridge while Chelsea are only the fifth team in Premier League history to win their opening 10 home games.
City have problems on and off the pitch. Fernandinho’s late goal – as Everton appealed in vain for offside – was squared, deservedly, by Steven Naismith four minutes later.
Manuel Pellegrini, City’s manager, regretted the chances his team wasted. They badly missed newly re-crowned African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure, away at the African Nations Cup, and Sergio Aguero, convalescing on the subs’ bench.
No wonder City are expected to splash £30m shortly on Toure’s Ivory Coast team-mate Wilfried Bony from Swansea.
Off the pitch City are in a muddle. They face new questions from UEFA over their finances while American fans are furious that City misled them over Frank Lampard’s ‘loan’ from New York City.
Lampard had never formally signed for the MLS club and hence moved to Manchester on a one-year contract and not on loan as City had stated. The row raised further doubts over how City manage their player acquisitions.
Liverpool step up
** Liverpool, after all the controversy over the impending exit of Steven Gerrard, moved within four points of the top four by defeating Sunderland 1:0. It was their third league win in four games thanks to Lazar Markovic’s first Premier League goal. Liverpool held out despite losing Gerrard to a hamstring injury at half-time.
** Alan Pardew enjoyed a winning start to his reign at Crystal Palace who overcame Harry Kane’s 17th goal of the season in all competitions to beat Tottenham 2-1. First text message of congratulation came from Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle whom Pardew left two weeks ago.
** Bottom club Leicester are fighting hard. A 1-0 win over Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa meant seven points from three games. Paul Konchesky, sent off in defeat at Villa last month, scored the winner. This time Leicester’s Matty James and Villa’s Ciaran Clark were sent off for fighting.
** QPR players scuffled with their own angry fans after a 2-1 defeat at Burnley pushed them down into the relegation zone. Defeat meant Harry Redknapp’s side set a Premier League record of 10 successive away defeats.
** Manager Sam Allardyce was absent through illness as West Ham drew 1-1 at Swansea and slipped out of the top six. Swansea scorer Bafetimbi Gomis celebrated his goal by grabbing, and waving, a French flag as a gesture of solidarity after the terror attacks in Paris.
** Tony Pulis celebrated victory in his first league match in charge of West Brom. England under-21 forward Saido Berahino scored the only goal against Hull.