Crystal Palace player Christian Benteke celebrates scoring a goal during the English Premier League match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. (EPA photo)
New life was pumped into the Premier League title race on Saturday after leaders Chelsea suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace, enabling Tottenham Hotspur to cut the gap at the top to seven points after their 2-0 win at Burnley.
Chelsea’s pursuers were all given fresh hope after Antonio Conte’s side lost their first league match at Stamford Bridge since September.
The unlikely reverse, which Conte admitted made the title race “more interesting” for everyone, left Chelsea on 69 points with Spurs having moved on to 62 and Liverpool on to 59, though the Reds have played a game more than the top two.
Such has been Chelsea’s dominance at the Bridge this season that once Cesc Fabregas had put them ahead after just five minutes, it all promised to be plain sailing towards an 11th straight home win in the league for the Blues.
Yet two splendid goals from Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke in the space of three minutes soon after changed the complexion of the game with Palace then defending stoically to earn the unlikeliest of wins.
Spurs had appeared to be labouring at Turf Moor without injured striker Harry Kane and they lost Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks — the latter to what appeared a serious ankle injury — before the interval.
Yet Eric Dier and Son Heung-min struck in the second half to earn the points, leaving an encouraged Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino to declare: “It was important for us to be there if Chelsea failed — and we are there. We’re there fighting for the Premier League.”
With Chelsea on Wednesday next facing Manchester City, who currently lie fourth on 57 points and who first face Arsenal on Sunday, it is little wonder that the Blues’ defeat has put a new spring in Pochettino’s step.
Jose Mourinho was left in a grumpy mood again after his toothless Manchester United, while extending their unbeaten league sequence to 19 matches, slipped up in the race for Champions League places, held to a goalless draw at Old Trafford by West Bromwich Albion.
It was United’s 11th draw, which leaves them in fifth place on 53 points.
At the other end of the table, Sunderland’s plight is looking increasingly dire following another defeat, with Miguel Britos heading his first goal for Watford in the 1-0 win at Vicarage Road.
Hull City came from behind to beat West Ham United 2-1 with Andrea Ranocchia notching the Tigers’ 85th-minute clincher, moving them up to 27 points in 18th place while Sunderland are rooted on 20.
Craig Shakespeare’s extraordinary start to management at Leicester City continued as the champions beat Stoke City 2-0 with goals from Wilfred Ndidi and Jamie Vardy.
Victory meant that Shakespeare has become the first British manager ever to win his first four top-flight league games in the Premier League era.
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