Chelsea kept pace with Arsenal and Manchester City in the title race with a battling 2-1 win over Liverpool.
It was a notable performance from Jose Mourinho’s Blues, as they fell behind to an early goal from Martin Skrtel, but strikes from Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto’o sealed the three points.
Liverpool made a sizzling start with a goal on three minutes. There was plenty of pre-game talk surrounding Branislav Ivanovic and Luis Suarez following last season’s infamous bite incident.
It was appropriate that the pair were involved in the opener, with Suarez proving too strong for Ivanovic at a free-kick. The loose ball fell to Skrtel and he turned the ball home.
Chelsea shook off the setback and went on the offensive; Simon Mignolet had to be alert to keep out a low drive from Eden Hazard.
For as good as Mignolet’s save from Hazard was, it was not a patch on the one he produced to deny Frank Lampard. The midfielder struck the ball from 25 yards and it was arrowing towards the top corner, but the keeper flung himself to his left and palmed it over the top.
Chelsea’s pressure paid off on 17 minutes with the equaliser. There was a slice of luck as the ball fell to Hazard, but there was nothing lucky about the finish as he curled an unerring effort beyond Mignolet.
Eto’o has come in for criticism for his lack of goals this term, but he grabbed his third in the Premier League at a vital time to put the Blues in front.
It wasn’t the prettiest he has netted in his stellar career, a prodded finish from close range that eluded Mignolet, but it could be one of the most important.
A defensive reshuffle on account of an injury to Ivanovic saw Ashley Cole brought on and he made a stunning, acrobatic interception to deny Raheem Sterling a sight of goal.
Liverpool crafted the first chance of the second half with Mamadou Sakho crashing a header against the bar.
Mignolet may have been partly to blame for Eto’o’s goal, but he made up for it with a brilliant reflex stop to deny the Cameroon forward a second.
Suarez’s first sight of goal came on 57 minutes with a crisp volley, which was well fielded by Petr Cech, while he had penalty claims waved away following a tangle with John Terry.
The appeals for a penalty against Terry were nowhere near as vociferous as the ones for a challenge by Eto'o on Suarez.
The ball had gone, yet Eto'o chose to step straight in front of Suarez. Referee Howard Webb had a great view of the incident, but chose to wave away the appeals—much to the consternation of Suarez and Liverpool.
Fernando Torres came on as a late substitute and almost produced a brilliant goal following a driving run, but the effort was saved by Mignolet.
It’s been a tough Christmas period for Liverpool following tight losses to Manchester City and Chelsea.
Liverpool have gone from top at Christmas to 5th in the space of 4 days. It's a cruel league. pic.twitter.com/IUFWENuKWF— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 29, 2013
Eden Hazard was named Man of the Match by broadcaster Sky Sports, and he was praised by teammate David Luiz in an interview with the broadcaster.
"Eden was amazing tonight," Luiz said. "He had a great game. I am happy when I have people like Eden in the team as he plays amazing football.
"We had a strong mentality and it was great to take the three points."
Mourinho: 'Big win, big opponent, big match and big respect to every player in this country because of the accumulation of matches.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) December 29, 2013
Ashley Cole, Chelsea: B
An injury to Ivanovic mid-way through the first half handed Cole a route back into the side. He looked composed from the off, was an attacking threat down the left and produced a superb interception to deny Sterling a sight of goal.
Eden Hazard, Chelsea: B+
Looked sharp from the off, as he stung Mignolet’s palms with an early strike. He was a constant threat and was rewarded with a brilliant strike to draw his side level.
Luis Suarez, Liverpool: B-
The Uruguayan did not get the goal he has found so often this season, but he was a constant menace. He crafted the opening goal by being too strong for Ivanovic and also had a stinging volley well saved. He also had two decent penalty appeals waved away.
Chelsea will be on the road on New Year's Day, as they travel to Southampton. That game is followed by a trip to Derby County in the third round of the FA Cup.
Liverpool will spend New Year's Day at home against Hull City, while they will also welcome Oldham to Anfield in the FA Cup.
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