LIVERPOOL, England â€” One by one, Chelsea’s closest challengers are falling away in the English Premier League title race.
After implosions by Manchester City, Liverpool, and then Arsenal over the past month, it was second-place Tottenham’s turn to trip up on Saturday.
Spurs were outplayed at Liverpool in a 2-0 loss and could be 12 points behind Chelsea if the leader beats Burnley on Sunday. With 13 rounds remaining, Chelsea could then canter to a second title in three years.
Sadio Mane scored both goals in a two-minute spell in the first half, as Liverpool rediscovered its form of the first half of the season to gain a first league win in six attempts in 2017.
It was only Tottenham’s third loss in this campaign and instead of having faint hopes of catching Chelsea, the priority for Mauricio Pochettino’s players will be preserving a top-four place to get back in the Champions League. In a potentially demoralizing defeat, they were outplayed and out-pressed by Liverpool.
Arsenal and Manchester United also won 2-0, against Hull and Watford respectively, as the race for a top-four finish intensified. Two points separate Tottenham and sixth-place United.
LIVERPOOL 2, TOTTENHAM 0
Mane scored in the 16th and 18th minutes to cap a first half in which Liverpool blew away Tottenham with its intensity and movement that had been lacking in recent games.
Liverpool’s slump in form coincided with Mane’s absence at the African Cup of Nations in January, and his return could be the catalyst the team needs to clinch a top-four place.
Mane raced through the middle to latch onto Georginio Wijnaldum’s pass and lifted home a well-taken finish for his first, and was celebrating again after driving a rising shot into the net from close range.
Spurs were so overwhelmed, they should have lost by a bigger margin.
“It’s difficult to fight for the Premier League if you show that performance,” Pochettino said. “There was a lack of aggression and desire to play for a win.”
MANCHESTER UNITED 2, WATFORD 0
Recalled to the team, Anthony Martial took his opportunity to impress United manager Jose Mourinho.
The France winger set up Juan Mata for a 31st-minute opener against Watford before scoring the second in the 60th in a comfortable win for United at Old Trafford
Martial â€” signed for 36 million pounds ($55.5 million) in 2015 â€” has been in and out of the team under Mourinho, who has called on him to show improvement with so many other wide players competing for places.
United extended its unbeaten streak in the league to 16 games.
ARSENAL 2, HULL 0
It was a tale of two handballs at Emirates Stadium.
Alexis Sanchez bundled in his first goal from close range using his right hand, with officials deciding it was accidental as the ball deflected up off goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic.
In injury time, Hull midfielder Sam Clucas blocked a header from Lucas Perez on the goal-line using his hand and was sent off. Sanchez drove home a low penalty for a league-high 17th goal of the season.
A week after winning 4-0 at Crystal Palace, Sunderland lost by the same score at Southampton to stay bottom of the standings. January signing Manolo Gabbiadini scored twice, taking his tally to three in two games since his move from Napoli.
Palace is ahead of Sunderland only on goal difference after losing at Stoke 1-0, with Joe Allen grabbing the winner.
West Bromwich Albion scored deep in injury time to draw at West Ham 2-2, while Middlesbrough drew against Everton 0-0.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80
Steve Douglas, The Associated Press