LONDON (AP) — The foundations are being laid for one of the English Premier League’s most exhilarating and competitive title races.
For the first time since the league’s inception 26 years ago, two teams — Chelsea and Liverpool — have a 100 percent winning record after five matches.
Eden Hazard’s hat trick powered Chelsea to a 4-1 victory over Cardiff on Saturday shortly after Roberto Firmino helped Liverpool overcome Tottenham 2-1. Dual-track perfection can’t last much longer as Chelsea hosts Liverpool in a showdown at Stamford Bridge in two weeks.
And the defending champions are in the slipstream. Still unbeaten, Manchester City beat Fulham 3-0 to remain two points behind the front-runners.
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Watford made an unexpectedly perfect start to the campaign but that was now over after being beaten 2-1 by Manchester United, which is trying to close a six-point gap on the leaders.
HAZARD TAKES TIPS
Hazard prepared for the Cardiff game with some encouragement and advice from Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri on Friday.
“You can score 40 goals,” Sarri recalled telling the winger. “But you have to spend less energy far from goal and you have to play in the last 25 meters of the field.”
Hazard’s best tally since joining Chelsea in 2012 is 18 in the 2016-17 campaign. He already has six from the opening five fixtures fueled by only his second Premier League treble.
The Belgium international surged through the defense before finishing powerfully in the 37th minute at Stamford Bridge to cancel out Sol Bamba’s surprise opener from winless Cardiff. Before halftime, Olivier Giroud laid the ball off for Hazard to unleash a strike which deflected in off Bamba to send Chelsea in front. Hazard’s third came from the spot in the 80th after a penalty was won by Willian, who curled in the fourth three minutes later.
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“When I arrived I thought that Hazard was one of the best players in Europe,” Sarri said. “Now I have changed my mind. Maybe he is the best. But I also think he can still improve more.”
Tottenham spent nothing in the offseason. Liverpool invested more than $200 million in new talent. Now the tables have been turned in a rivalry that saw Tottenham beat Liverpool 4-1 at home last season and finish a place ahead in third.
Liverpool’s 2-1 victory at Wembley pointed to a tight contest. In fact, after Erik Lamela pulled one back in stoppage time, Son Heung-min was unfortunate not to earn a stoppage-time penalty when South Korea’s returning Asian Games champion was kicked by Sadio Mane.
But Liverpool was far more sprightly and dangerous on the ball in north London, while Tottenham — particularly striker Harry Kane — was lethargic. Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino scored either side of halftime past Michel Vorm, who was deputizing for injured goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
United is getting its season back on track after a 3-0 humbling at home by Tottenham, with victory before the international break at Burnley followed by the success at Watford.
Mourinho wasn’t completely satisfied. Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling both scored inside three minutes in the first half but United had to withstand a second-half fightback that saw Andre Gray left unmarked to reduce the deficit.
United was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Nemanja Matic received a second booking for bringing down Will Hughes. It then took David de Gea’s fingertips save from Abdoulaye Doucoure’s header to ensure United claimed a third victory of the campaign.
“In the second half, maybe our ambition went a little bit down,” Mourinho said. “We gave them the chance to be more aggressive.”
SANE OPENS ACCOUNT
Voted the league’s best young player by his fellow professionals last season, the recalled Leroy Sane needed only two minutes to score in his first start of this campaign.
City’s Silvas combined for the second. A cross from Bernardo Silva deflected into the path of David Silva, who netted with a half-volley. Raheem Sterling tapped in two minutes into the second half.
ARSENAL ROAD RECOVERY
For the first time since May 2017, Arsenal has successive away wins in the league. Granit Xhaka struck a long-range free kick and helped to set up Mesut Ozil’s goal in a 2-1 victory at Newcastle for Unai Emery’s new side.
Bournemouth has collected 10 points from its opening games — to sit a point above Tottenham, Arsenal and United — thanks in part to Ryan Fraser’s contribution. The Scottish winger scored two and set up another in a 4-2 victory over Leicester.
Wilfried Zaha rushed back from a groin injury and scored to give Crystal Palace a 1-0 win at Huddersfield and its first success since the opening day.
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