(Reuters) - Liverpool moved 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League after beating Watford 2-0 on Saturday, while second-placed Leicester City were held 1-1 at home by struggling Norwich City, ending the Foxes’ club record eight-match winning run.
Chelsea’s poor domestic form continued with a shock 1-0 home defeat by lowly Bournemouth, while Sheffield United moved up to fifth with a 2-0 win over fellow promoted side Aston Villa.
West Ham United striker Sebastien Haller earned his side a 1-0 win at Southampton in the late game to ease them away from the relegation zone and leave Southampton in the bottom three.
With third-placed Manchester City 17 points behind Liverpool ahead of their trip to Arsenal on Sunday, Juergen Klopp’s side are in a commanding position heading into a busy holiday period.
Liverpool have 49 points with Leicester on 39, Manchester City 32, Chelsea 29 and Sheffield United 25.
The leaders had Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah to thank for their latest victory. He curled the ball home right-footed in the 38th minute after a characteristic Liverpool counter-attack.
Sadio Mane thought that he had doubled the lead five minutes after the break but the VAR review showed he was marginally offside when nodding the ball in from Xherdan Shaqiri’s cross.
Liverpool had to wait until stoppage time to make sure of the victory thanks to Salah’s superb back-heeled flick.
Watford, with new manager Nigel Pearson in charge for the first time, are rooted to the bottom of the league with just one league win in this campaign and were left to rue wasted chances, particularly a glaring second-half miss from Ismaila Sarr.
It was far from classic Liverpool, but Klopp was pleased with the way his team ground out the win.
“That’s how it is. At 1-0, that’s the result you never can rely on that the game is decided. No problem with that. In December and January especially, you need to show resilience – that’s the most important thing,” said the German.
Teemu Pukki gave Norwich a 25th-minute lead at Leicester with a clinical finish before visiting keeper Tim Krul scored an own goal in the 37th, failing to deal with a Jamie Vardy header when the league’s top scorer met a James Maddison corner.
Vardy missed a pair of gilt-edged chances to complete Leicester’s comeback before the home side were twice let off the hook in the closing stages by the Canaries.
Livewire Pukki saw a shot blocked by Ricardo Pereira and the home team’s centre back Caglar Soyuncu cleared a Christoph Zimmermann effort off the line from the resulting corner.
“It just looked like one of those games,” said Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers. “It’s a point and we need to look forwards now. The players have been brilliant.
“When you are on that winning run, you believe you are going to win every game, but of course it does not work like that.”
Sheffield United continue to impress on their return to the top flight and took the lead against Villa with a brilliantly worked opener, Chris Basham back-heeling the ball to John Lundstram who fired it across the box for Fleck to lash home.
The build-up play for Fleck’s second goal was equally impressive as the Blades worked the ball in from the left before striker David McGoldrick hooked a pass over his shoulder to Fleck, who again finished confidently.
Villa were thrown a potential lifeline when the video assistant referee (VAR) called play back to award them a penalty for handball. But Jack Grealish thumped his spot kick off the crossbar and the ball was cleared by Lundstram.
It was the third straight loss for Villa, who stayed out of the relegation zone on goal difference as Southampton suffered defeat later against West Ham.
A 58th-minute header from Chris Wood gave Burnley a 1-0 win over Newcastle United at Turf Moor, ending Sean Dyche’s side’s three-match losing streak.
West Ham had lost five of their last six games but Haller’s left-footed shot crept in just before halftime for his first goal since Oct. 5. Danny Ings struck the woodwork and had a goal disallowed as Southampton rallied after the break.
Reporting by Simon Evans and Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ken Ferris