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Willian extends Chelsea run, Liverpool down Manchester City

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Chelsea’s midfielder Willian controls the ball during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Stoke City at Stamford Bridge in London on December 31, 2016 © AFP / Adrian DENNIS

London, United Kingdom, Dec 31 – Willian scored twice as Chelsea claimed a record-equalling 13th consecutive Premier League victory by beating Stoke 4-2, while Liverpool kept in touch with the leaders after a 1-0 win over Manchester City.

Stoke twice hit back to level after falling behind at Stamford Bridge, but Willian’s second goal and a late Diego Costa strike saw Chelsea match Arsenal’s run of 13 wins within the same season from 2001-02.

Antonio Conte’s side remain six points clear of second-placed Liverpool heading into 2017.

“Congratulations go to my players. To win 13 games in a row in this league is very difficult,” Conte said.

“Now they are fantastic and we are proud, but we must concentrate on the second part of the season. Numbers are not important if you do not win the title.”

Liverpool’s midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum (C) celebrates after scoring the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on December 31, 2016 © AFP / Paul ELLIS

At Anfield, with Jurgen Klopp and City boss Pep Guardiola meeting for the first time in the Premier League, the clash of managerial heavyweights was a tense affair.

Third-placed City had star striker Sergio Aguero back from suspension and they dominated possession for long periods.

But it was Klopp’s team who delivered the knockout blow when Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum headed home from Adam Lallana’s cross in the eighth minute to seal Liverpool’s fourth successive win.

“When you invest so much in a game like this at the end you want to have it all. Thank God we got it because we play again on Monday,” Klopp said.

“It was difficult. We couldn’t create too many chances. We defended really well. It was a wonderful goal.”

Stoke City’sgoalkeeper Lee Grant (L) watches as the ball evades both Stoke City’s defender Bruno Martins Indi (L) and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Stoke City on December 31, 2016 © AFP / Adrian DENNIS

Guardiola added: “The first chance they had they scored so it was always difficult.

“In the second half we were a little better. In these kind of games the little details make the difference.”

Manchester United came perilously close to seeing their own winning streak end, only for late goals by Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba secured a 2-1 home win over Middlesbrough.

It was sixth-place United’s fifth straight league win and took them to within a point of fourth-place Arsenal, who host Crystal Palace on Sunday.

“My players were phenomenal. We managed to do something I love -– bring the fans to the pitch. The last 15 mins were 70,000 on the pitch against 11,” United manager Jose Mourinho said.

– Glory years –

Chelsea welcomed back N’Golo Kante and Costa from suspension for the visit of Stoke and took a first-half lead when Gary Cahill headed in a corner from Cesc Fabregas.

Manchester United’s striker Anthony Martial (2L) scores his team’s first goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Middlesbrough at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on December 31, 2016 © AFP / Oli SCARFF

Bruno Martins Indi equalised within seconds of kick-off in the second half, slotting in after Peter Crouch nodded down Charlie Adam’s free-kick.

After Willian had restored the hosts’ lead, lashing in from Eden Hazard’s lay-off, Crouch drew Stoke level again in the 64th minute when he tapped in Mame Biram Diouf’s cross.

But Willian put Chelsea back in front a minute later and Costa’s late strike sealed victory.

At Old Trafford United produced a comeback reminiscent of the glory years of the watching Alex Ferguson to continue their recent upturn.

But they had to do it the hard way, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic denied an 18th goal of the season in a contentious incident late in the first half.

Leaping to meet Martial’s left-wing cross, the Swede jabbed the ball past goalkeeper Victor Valdes at the near post, only for referee Lee Mason to rule it out.

Leicester City’s midfielder Danny Drinkwater vies with West Ham United’s midfielder Dimitri Payet (R) during the English Premier League football match at King Power Stadium in Leicester, central England on December 31, 2016 © AFP / Justin TALLIS

United’s players and Mourinho contested the decision, and there was worse to come when Grant Leadbitter drilled Boro in front from Alvaro Negredo’s knock-down in the 67th minute.

But Martial levelled in the 85th minute and barely a minute later Pogba headed in the winner from Juan Mata’s cross.

Champions Leicester City claimed a much-needed win, beating West Ham United 1-0 courtesy of Islam Slimani’s 20th-minute header to climb six points clear of the relegation zone.

Swansea City made a demoralising start to life without sacked manager Bob Bradley, slumping to a 3-0 home defeat against Bournemouth that kept them at the foot of the table.

Andre Gray became the first Burnley player to score a Premier League hat-trick as Sean Dyche’s men beat third-bottom Sunderland 4-1 to climb to 11th place.

Matt Phillips and Wales’s Euro 2016 star Hal-Robson Kanu scored as West Bromwich Albion came from behind to win 2-1 at Southampton, who had centre-back Virgil van Dijk sent off.

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