LONDON Liverpool finished 2016 second in the Premier League with a 1-0 victory over third-placed Manchester City on Saturday that confirmed them as the best-placed challengers to Chelsea for the title.
Georgio Wijnaldum's early goal kept Liverpool within six points of the London side who showed tenacity to see off a resilient Stoke City side 4-2 at Stamford Bridge.
Wijnaldum headed in powerfully from Adam Lallana's cross after eight minutes and Liverpool deserved their halftime lead in the first meeting in England between old Bundesliga adversaries Juergen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.
City improved in the second half but could not find a way through in a match of few scoring opportunities.
"We were not cool enough in possession the whole night but they couldn't create real chances because we defended really well," Klopp said.
Chelsea were given a stiff examination by Stoke, who twice came back to equalise.
After defender Gary Cahill headed in a corner, Dutch international Bruno Martins Indi brought them level. Willian then scored twice in eight minutes in the second half, on either side of Peter Crouch tapping in for his first Stoke goal since May 2015.
Chelsea could not feel secure until Diego Costa, back after suspension, scored his 14th goal of the season.
That made it 13 successive victories for Antonio Conte's side, equalling the record by any side for a single season in the top division of English football.
"A great achievement," he said. "But numbers are not important if you do not win the title".
Sixth-placed Manchester United fell behind at home to Middlesbrough before late goals from Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba brought about a 2-1 win.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with 11 goals in his previous 10 games, was annoyed to have a 12th ruled out in the first half for a high foot and Grant Leadbitter scored for Boro midway through the second half.
Martial, who had earlier hit the post for United, brought them level with five minutes left and a minute later Pogba earned his team their fifth successive league win.
United manager Jose Mourinho was delighted with his team, who had 32 attempts on goal, and the home crowd.
"The players brought the fans with them," he said. "The last 15 minutes were 70,000 on the pitch against 11."
West Bromwich Albion moved above Southampton into eighth place by coming from behind to beat them 2-1 at St Mary's.
The home side led just before halftime when Ireland striker Shane Long scored against his old club but Albion equalised within two minutes through Matt Phillips.
Only four minutes into the second half Hal Robson-Kanu marked his first start of the season by thrashing in the winning goal.
Southampton's coveted defender Virgil van Dijk received a red card near the end.
Leicester City, who had made the worst start of any champions for more than half a century, won an entertaining game 1-0 at home to West Ham United.
With England striker Jamie Vardy suspended, Algerian Islam Slimani headed the only goal to end the London side's run of three successive victories.
Swansea City, who sacked manager Bob Bradley this week, slumped to a 3-0 home defeat by Bournemouth to leave them bottom of the table at the halfway stage of the season.
Benik Afobe, Ryan Fraser and Josh King were the scorers as Bournemouth moved back into the top half of the table.
Sunderland stayed in the relegation places with a heavy 4-1 defeat at Burnley, whose impressive home form continues to make up for having taken only one point all season on their travels.
Andre Gray scored a hat-trick in 22 minutes and Ashley Barnes added a penalty before Jermain Defoe's late reply.
"We were dire, really really bad," Sunderland manager David Moyes said.
Sunderland have 14 points, two more than Swansea and one more than Hull City, who moved off the bottom with a 2-2 draw against Everton on Friday.
Fourth-placed Arsenal host Crystal Palace in a London derby and fifth-placed Tottenham visit Watford on Sunday.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)