London: Manchester City showed they are willing to accept the challenge of Liverpool in the race for the Premier League title with a 3-1 win away to Southampton on Sunday.
Following shock defeats by Crystal Palace and Leicester, reigning champions City cut the gap between themselves and Premier League leaders Liverpool to seven points ahead of their meeting with the Merseysiders at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.
But they allowed a limited Southampton side back into the game after a dominating start, which suggests there are still frailties for Liverpool to exploit.
David Silva put City ahead after 10 minutes but they passed up a number of chances to add to the lead and gifted Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg an equaliser in the 37th minute.
For a period, Pep Guardiola's side looked fragile, but a James Ward-Prowse own-goal and a header by Sergio Aguero just before half-time restored their confidence.
Saints' frustrations boiled over with a red card for Hojbjerg after a wild challenge on Fernandinho late in the game.
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl sprang a surprise in his team selection by giving a debut to 18-year-old former Chelsea starlet Kayne Ramsay at right-back.
City should have gone ahead in the fifth minute when Jack Stephens allowed Raheem Sterling to steal possession and set up David Silva.
But the City man tried to be too deliberate, with his shot blocked by goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.
But Saints could also have taken a more surprising lead after eight minutes when Mohamed Elyounoussi's clever flick over the City defence sent Charlie Austin clear.
Austin's first touch, however, was dreadful and sent the ball into Ederson's grateful arms.
Instead of being a goal up, the home side were behind within a minute.
The left side of their defence was opened up with ease by a simple one-two, leaving Bernardo Silva clear of full-back Matt Targett and free to advance down the right. He had all the time he wanted to pick out the unmarked David Silva, who hit the ball first-time past McCarthy.
Riyad Mahrez then shot wide after a move that began with City playing a series of passes inside their own penalty area.
And Aguero squandered an excellent chance in the 25th minute, hitting his shot against McCarthy after Sterling had accelerated past the hapless Targett.
But overplaying at the other end almost proved City's undoing.
Ederson was nearly caught by Austin before dribbling round the striker. But he showed a mastery of the more conventional goalkeeping arts on the half-hour with a diving save to keep out Austin's glancing header from a corner by Ward-Prowse.
City did not heed the warning and Saints were level after 36 minutes.
Oleksandr Zinchenko was slow to see Hojbjerg closing in on him and the Southampton captain robbed the Ukraine defender and strode forward before lashing the ball in from 15 yards.
Zinchenko could count himself lucky that referee Paul Tierney did not see his barge on Ward-Prowse after 44 minutes as a penalty.
And the home crowd were still complaining about that decision when City retook the lead on the stroke of half-time.
Sterling forced his way down the left and fired in a low cross that hit the foot of Ward-Prowse and zipped between the surprised McCarthy and his near post.
And the crowd's disbelief was complete three minutes into first-half stoppage time when Aguero rose unchallenged by Jan Bednarek to nod Zinchenko's cross under McCarthy.
In the second half both sides went through the motions. City had the points they needed and Southampton were happy to avoid further damage to their confidence and goal difference. But even then City could have had three or four more goals.
Sterling shot straight at McCarthy, Aguero hit the angle of the post and crossbar, and Mahrez blasted straight at the goalkeeper.
Frustration got the better of Hojbjerg, who launched into a scissors-style challenge on Fernandinho and was rightly sent off.
N'Golo Kante's goal secures Palace coup for Chelsea
Meanwhile, N'Golo Kante showed signs he is growing into his more advanced midfield role with a composed finish that gave Chelsea a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri has been criticised for moving Kante out of his more familiar position in front of the back four, with Jorginho filling the holding role.
As a result, Kante's effectiveness this season has been questioned, but the former Leicester City man impressed as he struck the 51st minute match-winner that helped the Blues tighten their grip on fourth by opening up a five-point gap to Arsenal.
Kante followed a perfectly timed run to meet David Luiz's chipped pass with a clinical finish to cap a dominant display by Sarri's side against London rivals Palace.
Chelsea's failure to add to Kante's third league goal of the season will have given Sarri some concern, though, and would have proved costly had Palace substitute Connor Wickham not skied a late chance over the bar.
The Italian manager reshaped his forward line by including Olivier Giroud as the central striker -- a decision that handed Alvaro Morata another reminder of his place in the strikers' pecking order at Stamford Bridge.
The Spaniard was among the substitutes, while Giroud's inclusion freed Eden Hazard from his recent duties as a false nine, allowing the Belgium international to return to his more familiar position on the left of the front three.
But despite dominating, particularly in the second half, Chelsea's chances remained limited.
Hazard quickly made the most of his freedom to drift in from the flank, testing the Palace defence with a number of runs from deep.
The Belgian's 34th-minute run towards the home penalty area drew a foul from Cheikhou Kouyate and led to the game's first real opportunity.
Willian's curling free-kick from 25 yards took a deflection off the defensive wall before clipping the outside of Vicente Guaita's right-hand post.
The Palace goalkeeper did well to punch the resulting corner clear, but Willian almost caught the Spaniard out with a fierce low shot from distance.
This passage of play suggested Chelsea were beginning to assert themselves but Palace's belief had clearly been strengthened by their victory at champions Manchester City eight days previously.
The home side appeared happy to concede territory in the hope of hitting Chelsea on the break and it was little surprise the game remained locked in stalemate at half-time.
It did not take long, however, for Sarri's side to breach the Palace defence at the start of the second half with Luiz injecting the moment of creativity needed to find a way through.
The centre-back was allowed time to pick his pass and his perfectly weighted chip fell into the path of Kante who had made a positive run towards the penalty spot.
The France international controlled the ball on his chest before hitting a left-foot shot that flew wide of Guaita's dive.
Having dominated long periods of the game before the goal, Chelsea assumed total control after Kante's opening goal.
Guaita was called to save yet again from Willian after the Brazilian was set up by a clever Hazard backheel before Giroud saw his second effort of the game ruled out for offside.
Wickham's 89th-minute chance gave Sarri's side a late scare but this was a comfortable Chelsea win.
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Updated Date: Dec 30, 2018 23:08:02 IST