LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea made the most emphatic statement yet about their Premier League title credentials as they forged clear at the top of the table with a dramatic, chaotic and emotional 3-1 win at Manchester City on Saturday.
The comeback victory gave Chelsea 34 points from 14 matches, three clear of second-placed Arsenal who romped to a 5-1 victory at West Ham United thanks to Chile forward Alexis Sanchez’s 15-minute hat-trick in the second half.
Chelsea are four points clear of Liverpool, who visit Bournemouth on Sunday, and Manchester City. Tottenham Hotspur stayed fifth after a 5-0 thrashing of Swansea City featured another Harry Kane double.
The drama in the day’s big match came with Antonio Conte’s leaders coming from one down at halftime to reply through the league’s top marksman Diego Costa -- he now has 11 -- Willian and Eden Hazard as they claimed a remarkable eighth straight win.
The chaos emerged deep into stoppage time with City duo Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho sent off amid ugly scenes as the 22 players and the coaching staff got involved in a melee following the Argentina striker’s knee-high lunge on David Luiz.
The emotion was on view even before the game at the Etihad Stadium when the crowd immaculately observed a minute’s silence for the victims of Monday’s air crash involving Brazilian team Chapecoense, a tribute that was mirrored at matches throughout the league.
Chelsea’s Brazilian pair Willian and defender Luiz also held their black armbands aloft when the midfielder put his side 2-1 up.
“I give this victory to the people who died,” said Luiz whose former Vitoria team mate Arthur Maia was one of the victims. “It was a difficult week for us especially emotionally.”
Manchester City were left reeling after dominating for most of the first hour.
They went ahead just before halftime through a Gary Cahill own goal and then almost put the game to bed when Kevin De Bruyne was presented with an open goal but crashed the ball against the bar.
The Belgian’s failure to slot home a cross from three metres out proved costly as Chelsea, showing what manager Conte called “good character”, exposed City’s defensive deficiencies on the break with three goals in the last half-hour.
City’s frustration was evident from Aguero’s shocking challenge deep into stoppage time that saw him sent off and sparked a pitchside brawl culminating in another red card for Fernandinho for pushing Cesc Fabregas over advertising hoardings.
Manager Pep Guardiola apologised for his side’s part in the melee as he pondered the prospect of losing two of his key men because of suspension over the next few weeks.
Arsenal bounced back from their midweek League Cup defeat against Southampton by destroying West Ham with goals from Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a clinical treble from Sanchez who struck in the 72nd, 80th and 86th minutes.
Andy Carroll marked his return from injury with a late consolation goal for the Hammers who are now one point above the relegation zone.
Tottenham responded well after losing their unbeaten league record at Chelsea last week by thumping hapless Swansea with Kane marking his new contract with two goals and Christian Eriksen also scoring twice.
The plight of champions Leicester City worsened with a 2-1 defeat at Sunderland that leaves them two points above a bunching relegation zone in what is turning out to be one of the worst title defences in the top flight.
A Robert Huth own goal and an expert finish by Jermain Defoe saw Sunderland home as they climbed to 11 points, within two of Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester and two clear of bottom club Swansea.
“From the own goal you can see the luck is not with us but we have to stay compact, stay together and react strongly,” Ranieri said.
Editing by Tony Jimenez