Image:Football Soccer – Chelsea v Sunderland – Barclays Premier League – Stamford Bridge – 19/12/15 Pedro (hidden) celebrates with team mates after scoring the second goal for Chelsea Reuters / Dylan Martinez Livepic
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Chelsea began the post-Jose Mourinho era with a 3-1 win over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge to ease away from the Premier League’s bottom three on Saturday while Leicester City moved five points clear at the top.
Mourinho, sacked on Thursday after Chelsea’s worst start to a season since 1978, had his name chanted by the fans while the likes of striker Diego Costa and midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who some supporters blame for the champions’ malaise, were booed.
Some sense of normality was restored in west London with Branislav Ivanovic, Pedro and Oscar on target as Guus Hiddink, confirmed on Saturday as interim coach for the second time having performed the role in 2009, watched from the stands.
Chelsea, who began the day a point above the relegation zone, moved up one place to 15th.
Leicester’s unlikely title challenge gathered momentum with a 3-2 victory at Everton that ensures they will spend Christmas top of the table, a year after occupying bottom spot heading into the hectic holiday schedule.
Only Norwich City (1987-88/1988-89) have achieved a similar transformation in top-flight history.
Two Riyad Mahrez penalties and a goal from Shinji Okazaki put Leicester on 38 points from 17 games, with chasing Arsenal and Manchester City, who clash at The Emirates on Monday, on 33 and 32 respectively.
“I am very honest,” said Leicester’s former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri, who is now being quizzed on a weekly basis about his side’s chances of staying top. “If there are two matches left I think of the title. Now I enjoy.”
With Mourinho sacked, the managerial spotlight intensified on Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal as his side suffered a third consecutive defeat, lowly Norwich City winning 2-1 for their first victory at Old Trafford since 1989.
Tottenham Hotspur took advantage of United’s woes to move above them into fourth place on goal difference thanks to a 2-0 win at Southampton — Harry Kane and Dele Alli scoring.
Mourinho spent the day watching Middlesbrough, coached by Aitor Karanka, his assistant at Real Madrid, playing at Brighton and Hove Albion in the second-tier Championship while 75km away his former charges finally produced a display worthy of champions, having lost nine of their first 16 league matches.
That did not stop the Chelsea fans displaying their loyalty to the Portuguese coach, who delivered three league titles and numerous other trophies in his two stints in charge.
“Delighted to get the three points today,” captain John Terry told Sky Sports. “There was pressure on us before the game but we brought that on ourselves.
“We are not used to being (in this position) but the fans will support us through this, and more performances like this will put smiles on their faces.”
Those waiting for Leicester to falter were disappointed again as Ranieri’s team displayed the kind of fast, incisive football that has earned 11 league victories.
Mahrez slotted home from the spot in the 26th minute after Okazaki was bundled over by Ramiro Funes Mori but Romelu Lukaku equalised soon after and has now scored in seven consecutive league matches.
Algerian Mahrez converted his second penalty just past the hour before Okazaki struck and Kevin Mirallas’s late replay proved in vain for the home side.
Mahrez now has 13 league goals this season, the same as Lukaku, and two behind team mate Jamie Vardy, who combined with Mahrez to earn the second penalty.
Manchester United were booed off at halftime and full time at Old Trafford where they trailed to goals from Norwich’s Cameron Jerome and Alex Tettey before Anthony Martial replied for the misfiring Reds.
They are now without a win in six matches in all competitions.
“We know that it is not good enough for us, the players know that, I know that, the board knows that and the fans know that,” Van Gaal told Sky Sports.
Sixth-placed Crystal Palace won 2-1 at Stoke City while promoted Bournemouth claimed a third consecutive league win to move above from danger with a late Charlie Daniels penalty sealing a 2-1 success at West Bromwich Albion.
West Brom had James McClean sent off in the first half and Salomon Rondon in stoppage time.
Bottom club Aston Villa claimed a point in a 1-1 draw at Newcastle United thanks to a fine Jordan Ayew goals but remain in deep trouble — 10 points adrift of the safety zone.
(Editing by Justin Palmer and Ken Ferris)
Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.