LONDON – Chelsea put an end to their winless run after sealing a 2-0 victory over Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon.
Languishing in 16th place, having already lost four games this season, the reigning Premier League champions required no less than three points against Villa.
Jose Mourinho opted to drop Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic and Oscar from his starting line-up, in what inevitably brought negative suggestions that the Portuguese manager may be struggling in the dressing room.
Nonetheless, the Blues went towards silencing any such doubt when, arguably against the run of play, they opened the lead through the returning Diego Costa.
Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan failed with an attempted short pass to Joleon Lescott on the edge of the box, resulting in Chelseaâ€™s Willian capitalising on the error and stealing the ball away from the former Manchester City defender.
The Brazilian burst into the box, squared the ball to Costa, and left the striker with the simplest of finishes to double his tally for the season.
Costa â€“ as ever â€“ remained key for Chelsea and it was his deflected shot early on in the second half that sealed the three points for the struggling title defenders, and heaped further pressure on Tim Sherwood.
The victory moves the Blues up to 11th and leaves them ten points off Manchester City – who cruised to victory over AFC Bournemouth at the Etihad Stadium.
With Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Aleksandar Kolarov all suffering injuries on international duty, the Citizens may have been anxious ahead of their clash with the Cherries.
However, Manuel Pellegriniâ€™s men looked unaffected by the absence of such key players, with Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Bony etching their names on the scoresheet with less than fifteen minutes on the clock.
Sterling, who has failed to live up to his price-tag so far, then sealed a hat-trick before half-time, and despite the visitors grabbing one goal back prior to the break, City, in full control, cruised over the line with a 5-1 victory to remain top of the table.
With the Manchester derby to come next Sunday, United, taking on Everton, will have had one close eye on their noisy neighbours’ result, but had to stay focused on the task at hand – and that they did.
Goodison Park was saddened by the passing of the clubâ€™s greatest-ever manager Howard Kendall before the match, and the emotion was felt all across the Everton ground prior to kick off.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, it was Manchester United who settled the quicker.
Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera, who have been in and out of Van Gaalâ€™s team this term, scored mid-way through the first forty-five minutes to put the visitors in the ascendancy.
Next to get his name on the scoresheet was none other than former Toffees starlet Wayne Rooney â€“ netting his 187th Premier League goal, tying level with Andy Cole as the joint-second all-time scorer in England’s top flight.
The strike sealed a 3-0 victory, but with City clinching three points, their gap from the leaders remains at two.
Also near the top, and off the back of three consecutive victories, high flying Crystal Palace had a tough contest with West Ham United.
Despite facing a confident Palace side, with no defeats on the road, the Hammers were unfazed by their opponents and quickly took the lead.
Manuel Lanzini and Victor Moses combined expertly, with the on-loan Chelsea winger playing the ball to Carl Jenkinson who, with the outside of his foot, calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net.
Jenkinsonâ€™s happiness was short-lived, however, as just seconds after opening the scoring, the full-back conceded a penalty. Yohan Cabaye, at the second attempt, calmly converted the spot kick.
Nonetheless, the misery turned to Palace, as Dwight Gayle was shown a second yellow card before half time, and despite drawing level, two goals in the dying minutes of the game, from Lanzini and Dimitri Payet, saw the Irons clinch a 3-1 victory at Selhurst Park.
Southampton, meanwhile, having beaten the current title holders, Chelsea, 3-1 in their own backyard before the international break, were expected to brush Leicester City aside â€“ in spite of the Foxes’ inspired form.
This looked to be the case, as Ronald Koemanâ€™s side headed into the dressing room at half-time two goals up, courtesy of Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk.
Leicester, however, didn’t allow their heads to drop and, thanks to the Premier League’s top scorer Jamie Vardy, came from two goals behind to clinch a well-earned point.
Heading towards matters at the other end of the table, Sam Allardyce faced a tough first game in charge of Sunderland against West Bromwich Albion.
With the Black Cats yet to win a single game this season, sitting one point off bottom, Dick Advocaat decided enough was enough and called it quits on his time at the Stadium of Light â€“ after just eight games.
And Alladryce, confirmed in the week as his replacement, was the man assigned to the job of turning Sunderlandâ€™s season around.
However, rather predictably, it wasnâ€™t to be a fairy-tale start for the former West Ham boss, as the Baggies claimed a narrow 1-0 victory, thanks to a finish from Saido Berahino.
Premier League results:
Chelsea 2-0 Aston Villa
Crystal Palace 1-3 West Ham United
Everton 0-3 Manchester United
Manchester City 5-1 AFC Bournemouth
Southampton 2-2 Leicester City
West Bromwich Albion 1-0 Sunderland