Marcos Alonso proved an unexpected replacement for the absent Diego Costa as Chelsea won 3-0 at Leicester City on Saturday to consolidate their position atop the Premier League table.
Costa, Chelsea’s top scorer, was missing after reportedly rowing with coaching staff about his fitness, but Spanish wing-back Alonso’s double helped Antonio Conte’s side go seven points clear.
“If there are problems, I prefer to solve the problem in the changing room and not during the press conference,” Conte said. “If, and I repeat if, there are problems.”
Tottenham Hotspur climbed into second place after Harry Kane claimed a hat-trick in a 4-0 stroll against West Bromwich Albion, with Arsenal moving up to third after winning by the same scoreline at Swansea City.
Chelsea’s 13-game winning run had been halted by a 2-0 defeat at Spurs on their previous league outing and preparations for the trip to Leicester were rocked by the Costa controversy.
Asked to explain Costa’s absence, Conte would only say that the striker, who is reportedly the subject of an eye-watering offer from China, had been unable to train due to a back problem.
But the Brazil-born Spain international’s absence was quickly forgotten as Eden Hazard teed up Alonso to sweep Chelsea ahead in the sixth minute at the King Power Stadium.
Alonso struck six minutes into the second half as well, with a deflected shot, before Pedro Rodriguez headed in after Willian had been denied by Kasper Schmeichel.
“A good performance, because it’s not easy to come here, play the champions and win in this way,” Conte told BT Sport.
“After the defeat to Spurs we started in the right way.”
It was Leicester’s 10th defeat of the campaign and kept the champions in 15th place, five points above the relegation zone.
“I think after Chelsea it was a big challenge to keep the momentum and show that we are mature enough to fight for big things and today was a very good example of that.”
The only low point for Spurs was an ankle injury that forced centre-back Jan Vertonghen off midway through the second half. Pochettino said the early signs looked “very bad”.
Arsenal moved above Liverpool -- who visit arch rivals Manchester United on Sunday -- on goal difference after a pair of own goals helped them to victory at struggling Swansea.
Olivier Giroud broke the deadlock in the 37th minute, slamming home his fifth goal in five games after Mesut Ozil’s header hit Alfie Mawson.
Alex Iwobi drew own goals from Jack Cork and Kyle Naughton early in the second half before Alexis Sanchez sealed victory with a 73rd-minute volley that took his tally for the campaign to 14 goals.
It was a first home league game to forget for Swansea’s new manager Paul Clement, whose team sank to the foot of the standings.
Marco Silva had a more memorable league bow as Hull City manager, with Abel Hernandez scoring twice and Tyrone Mings putting through his own own goal as they came from behind to beat Bournemouth 3-1.
Sunderland slipped below Hull to 19th place after a dispiriting 3-1 home defeat by Stoke City, for whom Marko Arnautovic scored twice and Peter Crouch headed in his 99th Premier League goal.
West Ham United brushed off the absence of want-away star Dimitri Payet to sink Crystal Palace 3-0, goals by Sofiane Feghouli and Manuel Lanzini sandwiching a sensational Andy Carroll bicycle kick.
Combative midfielder Joey Barton marked his return to Burnley, after an ill-fated stint at Scottish giants Rangers, by scoring a 78th-minute free-kick to secure a 1-0 home win over Southampton.
There were emotional scenes at Vicarage Road as Watford’s fans paid tribute to late former manager Graham Taylor, who died on Thursday aged 72, prior to their side’s goalless draw with Middlesbrough.