Hazard lifts Chelsea

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LONDON: Manchester City’s record signing Riyad Mahrez missed an 86th minute penalty as the Premier League champions were held to a 0-0 draw at Liverpool on Sunday as both sides failed to lay down an early marker in the title race.

Substitute Leroy Sane was brought down in the area by the lunging Virgil van Dijk but Algerian winger Mahrez blasted the spot kick high over the bar at Anfield.

City remain top of the table on goal difference, but both sides are now locked with Chelsea, who were 3-0 winners earlier at Southampton, on 20 points from eight games, two ahead of fourth-placed Arsenal, who are level on points with north London rival Tottenham Hotspur.

Liverpool and City generally provide open, expansive games with goals aplenty, but this meeting was a dull affair short on flair and excitement.

Liverpool, who remain unbeaten in their last 18 home games against City, came out roaring and dominated the opening 10 minutes but Pep Guardiola’s visiting side weathered that early storm and were the more dangerous after the break.

Mahrez twice forced good saves out of Liverpool keeper Alisson Becker but then failed to find the target from the pnelaty spot when it mattered most.

Eden Hazard was the inspiration as Chelsea cruised to victory at Southampton. The Belgium playmaker scored the first and set up the third for substitute Alvaro Morata, while in between Ross Barkley claimed his first Chelsea goal.

“It’s too early to be thinking about the title, we know it is tough to win,” said Hazard. “But it is good to be up there. We are enjoying playing well and scoring goals.”

Chelsea went ahead on the half-hour when Barkley did well to win possession in midfield and set up the unmarked Hazard to fire the ball past Alex McCarthy for his seventh league goal of the season.

Barkley then added the second goal from tap-in range after Olivier Giroud produced an acrobatic cross-shot following a free kick by Willian and Hazard played in substitute Morata to seal the win in stoppage time.

In Sunday’s other game, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang each netted twice as a resurgent Arsenal enjoyed a sixth straight league victory with a 5-1 rout of Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Lacazette sparked Arsenal’s power surge, with his superb second-half strike restoring their lead after Andre Schurrle had cancelled out his opener.

Aaron Ramsey’s audacious back-heeled goal put Arsenal in complete control to cap a stunning move before Aubameyang netted twice in the closing stage.

“We worked very hard in the second half for this result,” Arsenal manager Unai Emery told reporters. “We need to be the same way in our matches: calm, finding our best performance and combination of players.”

In Saturday’s late match, Manchester United produced a stunning fightback to relieve some of the pressure on manager Jose Mourinho as they came from two goals down to beat Newcastle United 3-2 and move up to eighth place in the standings.

Following a newspaper report that he could be fired because of poor results and frequent criticism of his players, Mourinho was a picture of abject misery on the touchline as United went 2-0 down against Newcastle after only 10 minutes at Old Trafford.

Kenedy gave Newcastle the lead with a smart finish before Yoshinori Muto made it 2-0 following poor United defending at a corner.

The hosts turned it around in the second half, though, Juan Mata sparking the comeback with a low, curling free kick in the 70th minute. Anthony Martial equalised six minutes later before substitute Alexis Sanchez headed in the dramatic winner in the last minute of normal time.

While Old Trafford was celebrating wildly and singing Mourinho’s name, the pressure switched to Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez as his side remained winless in the league and second-bottom of the table.

Mourinho was relieved but still irritated by weeks of criticism following United’s worst seven-game start to a season for 29 years amid the breakdown of his relationship with star midfielder Paul Pogba and several other key players.

“As a friend of mine was saying to me this morning, if tomorrow it rains in London it is my fault,” Mourinho said. “If there [are] some difficulties with the agreements of Brexit, it is my fault.

“I think a lot of wickedness, and clear man-hunting, in football is too much. It is my life. It is a life I love, and since I was a kid I work for this.”

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