Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres applied the gloss to a workmanlike 2-0 victory at Hull City that lifted Chelsea ominously to the top of the Premier League on Saturday.
In true Jose Mourinho style, the Londoners first nullified the minimal threat posed by Hull, then cut through at will after the break when classy goals by Hazard and Torres earned the Blues a fourth consecutive league victory.
Mourinho’s in-form side have 46 points, one more than second-placed Arsenal who visit Aston Villa on Monday and two ahead of Manchester City who travel to Newcastle United on Sunday.
“Do we like to be leaders? Yes, we like, but maybe tomorrow we are second and maybe Monday we are third,” manager Mourinho told reporters.
“The important thing is we all know we are going in the right direction.”
Champions Manchester United remained in seventh place, nine points behind Chelsea, but at least got back to winning ways with a 2-0 home defeat of Swansea City that put a smile back on the face of manager David Moyes after three consecutive defeats.
Everton rose to fourth with 41 points courtesy of a 2-0 home win over Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur have 40 in fifth after beating Crystal Palace 2-0.
With Sunderland winning 4-1 at Fulham and West Ham United sinking Cardiff City 2-0, Palace now prop up the table although only six points separate them from 10th-placed Hull.
New West Bromwich Albion manager Pepe Mel watched his new club lose 1-0 at mid-table Southampton.
It was about as stress-free a Saturday lunchtime as Chelsea could have wished for at Hull.
They easily coped with the home side’s lacklustre attacks and when they attacked Hazard provided the spark.
The Belgian fired a low shot home following a jinking burst in the 56th minute and Spain striker Torres marked his 200th Premier League appearance with a clinical late strike.
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech also set a club record of 209 clean sheets, 150 of them in the league.
The Czech international was barely troubled as he edged in front of Stamford Bridge great Peter Bonetti, his only save of note coming from Jake Livermore’s swerving effort before halftime.
Without scaling the heights Chelsea are beginning to hit top gear at just the right time, churning out wins and clean sheets just as they did in Mourinho’s first stint in charge.
“Today we had the extra pressure of not losing the chance to be top even for a few hours,” the manager said.
“I feel the team is improving step by step, all the players are stable and the young players are improving. You can feel the evolution in the team.
“We could do better because we lost some points that we shouldn’t have but it could also be worse. Not a five out of 10, not a 10…seven, seven-and-a-half, eight, around there,” Mourinho added when summing up their season.
After a dull start Hazard carved out Chelsea’s first chance on the half hour, teeing up Oscar with a neat pull back but the Brazilian’s point-blank shot was brilliantly turned over the crossbar by Allan McGregor.
McGregor also had to be on his toes to deal with a dipping shot from David Luiz before halftime as the visitors gradually asserted their superiority.
Hazard broke through, rifling a shot past McGregor after skipping away from Hull’s defence.
One goal looked like being enough for the Londoners but Torres made sure of the points after 87 minutes when he raced clear to beat McGregor.
With strikers Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie missing, Manchester United laboured against Swansea in the first half at Old Trafford and there were grumbles among the home fans.
Antonio Valencia lifted the mood when he tapped the ball in after 47 minutes and then Danny Welbeck flicked in United’s second goal to clinch the win.
Gareth Barry’s 50th league goal helped Everton to victory over Norwich at Goodison Park before Kevin Mirallas made it 2-0 with a free kick.
England striker Jermain Defoe reminded Tottenham fans what they will be missing when he joins Toronto on Feb. 28, scoring the second goal against Palace after coming off the bench to replace Roberto Soldado.
Palace wasted the chance to go ahead in the first half when Jason Puncheon sliced a penalty high and wide.
After conceding 11 goals without scoring in two crushing cup defeats and falling into the bottom three, West Ham produced a gutsy display to win at Cardiff despite having James Tomkins sent off and fellow defender Guy Demel taken to hospital.
Carlton Cole gave the Hammers the lead and Mark Noble scored in stoppage time after being set up by fit-again England striker Andy Carroll who was making his first appearance of the season.
Adam Johnson grabbed a hat-trick to lift Gus Poyet’s Sunderland off the bottom.
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