Chelsea opened up a five-point gap at the top of the English Premier League on Saturday, goals from Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou wrapping up a 2-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers.
With Manchester City facing Arsenal and Manchester United traveling to Stoke the following day, the champions seized the chance to put pressure on the chasing pack by taking maximum points at Stamford Bridge.
Malouda’s goal came on 23 minutes, the French international providing the finish after neat interplay between Yuri Zhirkov and Nicolas Anelka.
Salomon Kalou bagged Chelsea’s second after a scintillating sequence of one-touch play opened up the Wolves defense on 81 minutes.
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti was pleased his team had been able to register a victory after a grueling midweek Champions League trip to Moscow.
“It was a difficult week because we had to travel to Moscow, so I think we were not 100 percent. It’s important to win when you are not 100 percent,” said Ancelotti, downplaying the significance of Chelsea’s lead at the top. “We are in a good position, we started well and we have to continue, but nothing more.”
In other matches on Saturday, Tottenham Hotspur shared the points with Everton in a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane.
“They’re a good side. You don’t get an easy game with Everton, you never do,” Spurs boss Harry Redknapp said. “We had the better of the chances, but I’m happy with a point.”
Elsewhere, West Bromwich Albion advanced to fourth after coming from behind to defeat Fulham 2-1 at the Hawthorns.
Fulham had taken the lead on nine minutes when a Zoltan Gera shot was tipped onto the post by Scott Carson, only to cannon back off the West Brom goalkeeper and roll into the net.
Yet the Baggies were back on level terms soon afterwards, when Chris Brunt picked out Youssouf Mulumbu, who rifled past Mark Schwarzer to make it 1-1.
West Brom took the lead five minutes before halftime, Brunt and Jerome Thomas combining well to play in Marc-Antoine Fortune, who made it 2-1.
Baggies manager Roberto Di Matteo played down his side’s flying start to the season.
“I keep saying the same — we’ve only played nine games. It’s important where we stand at the end of the season, not right now,” Di Matteo said.
At the Stadium of Light, Aston Villa defender Richard Dunne set an unwanted Premier League record when his own-goal handed Sunderland a 1-0 victory.
It was the eighth own-goal of Dunne’s career and proved decisive as Villa struggled in vain to find an equalizer after dominating the second half.
Villa manager Gerard Houllier bemoaned his side’s inability to convert any of a string of openings.
“A fair result would have been a draw,” Houllier said. “We had opportunities, but in football you have to put the ball into the back of the net.”
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce admitted his team had been fortunate to score after struggling to find the net this season.
“We needed a bit of luck,” Bruce said. “We needed something. You always worry against a side with the quality of Aston Villa whether one goal is going to be enough. In the second half, it proved to be.”
Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers fought out a 1-1 draw at the DW Stadium, Hugo Rodallega scoring on 59 minutes for the Latics, before Swedish international Johan Elmander leveled for the visitors seven minutes later.
Birmingham City piled on the misery for minnows Blackpool with a 2-0 victory at St Andrews.