By Kieran CANNING – Japan Today
Manchester City opened up a six-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a first half demolition of Leicester in a thrilling 6-3 win as Chelsea got back on track with a 3-1 victory at Aston Villa on Sunday.
Three of the scheduled nine Boxing Day matches were postponed due to coronavirus outbreaks as Britain battles record numbers of cases caused by the Omicron strain of the virus.
Last week, Premier League clubs rejected the option of temporarily halting the season to allow a circuit breaker for infections.
And a stop to the season may be the only way to slow City’s charge towards a fourth title in five seasons as Pep Guardiola’s men have now won nine league games in a row.
Leicester were blown away by four goals inside 25 minutes.
Kevin De Bruyne blasted home to open the floodgates before Riyad Mahrez netted against his former club from the penalty spot.
Ilkay Gundogan rounded off a brilliant City team move to make it 3-0 before Raheem Sterling won and converted the champions’ second penalty.
Leicester are one of the sides to have been decimated by COVID infections and injuries in recent weeks, but they produced a stirring second half fightback thanks to James Maddison.
The midfielder pulled a goal back before leading a break finished off by Ademola Lookman.
Kelechi Iheanacho made it 4-3 when he bundled home from close range after Ederson could only turn Maddison’s shot onto the bar.
But City quickly restored some order as Aymeric Laporte powered home from a corner and Sterling rounded off the scoring from close range.
“It was a roller coaster,” said Guardiola. “It was a typical Boxing Day game, lots of goals. It was entertaining for everyone. It was 4-0 and we were creating, but every time they had the ball they arrived in the final third and created chances. The game was open.”
After one win in their previous four league games, Chelsea came from behind against a Villa team without boss Steven Gerrard due to a positive COVID test.
Hampered by injuries and COVID absences, Chelsea had surrendered top spot during a spluttering run before Christmas.
They were in trouble again when Reece James headed Matt Targett’s cross into his own net in the 28th minute.
But Jorginho equalised six minutes later, the Italian stroking home a penalty after Matt Cash tripped Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Romelu Lukaku came off the bench at half-time and, in the 65th minute, the Belgian striker headed just his sixth Chelsea goal since his move from Inter Milan.
Lukaku won a stoppage-time penalty after his powerful run was halted by Ezri Konsa’s foul and once again Jorginho did the job from the spot.
Third placed Chelsea are level on points with second placed Liverpool, whose game against Leeds was one of the COVID postponements.
Villa’s next match against Leeds, scheduled for December 28, was called off on Sunday taking the total number of Premier League games postponed over the past two weeks to 14.
Arsenal consolidated their position in fourth with a routine 5-0 win at rock bottom Norwich.
Goals from Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney put the result beyond much doubt before half-time.
Saka added a second before Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty and substitute Emile Smith Rowe rounded off a fifth consecutive win for Mikel Arteta’s men.
“We looked really sharp and committed,” said Arteta. “It’s a big win for us.”
Spurs moved up to fifth, six points behind their north London rivals but with three games in hand, after easing past a depleted Crystal Palace 3-0.
Palace’s request for the game to be postponed was dismissed by the Premier League despite a coronavirus outbreak that left them without manager Patrick Vieira.
Harry Kane swept home just his third Premier League goal of the season before Lucas Moura powered in a header.
Wilfried Zaha was sent-off for two bookable offenses before half-time and Son Heung-min added a third 16 minutes from time.
West Ham’s bid for the top four is falling apart fast as they were beaten 3-2 at home by Southampton.