Chelsea’s new interim manager Guus Hiddink watched his team beat Sunderland 3-1 on Saturday, while Norwich City won at Manchester United to imperil their manager Louis van Gaal.
Appointed prior to kick-off in place of the sacked Jose Mourinho, Hiddink was in the stands at a discontented Stamford Bridge as Chelsea prevailed through goals from Branislav Ivanovic, Pedro Rodriguez and Oscar.
Chelsea’s fans used the match as an opportunity to take out their anger over Mourinho’s dismissal on their own players, but captain John Terry said he sympathised with them.
“Rightly so the fans are disappointed and so are we,” he told Sky Sports. “We don’t want to be where we are.
“Credit to all the players. Our thoughts are with the manager (Mourinho), because we are disappointed. It falls on his head, unfortunately.”
There was also a bilious atmosphere at Old Trafford, where Norwich won 2-1 to condemn United to a third straight defeat in all competitions and send them out of the top four.
Van Gaal was assailed with boos from the home supporters at the final whistle, having earlier been taunted with chants of “Jose Mourinho, he’s taking your job!” from the away end.
United’s next home fixture is against Chelsea on December 28 and social media was quickly abuzz with speculation that Mourinho could find himself sitting in Van Gaal’s seat by then.
Asked if he believes he will be given time to correct United’s course, Van Gaal said: “It’s not up to me to say about that question, but we shall see.”
A world away from the managerial intrigue, Claudio Ranieri, the former Chelsea manager, saw his Leicester City side win 3-2 at Everton to guarantee that they will top the table on Christmas Day.
Hiddink, 69, has returned to Chelsea in the hope of pulling off a salvage job similar to the one he masterminded in 2009, when he led the club to FA Cup glory after being parachuted in by owner Roman Abramovich.
Pro-Mourinho banners were visible around the ground — one bearing the message “You let Jose down, you let us down” — and his name was chanted by the home supporters right from kick-off.
But with first-team coach Steve Holland in the dug-out, Chelsea made a storming start, Ivanovic heading in Willian’s corner in the fifth minute and Pedro slamming home eight minutes later.
– Mahrez brace –
Oscar added a third early in the second half with a penalty, before Fabio Borini replied from close range for the visitors. Victory left Chelsea in 15th place, four points clear of the relegation zone.
United are now nine points adrift of Leicester in fifth place after Cameron Jerome and Alexander Tettey scored either side of half-time to give Norwich a first win at Old Trafford since August 1989.
Wayne Rooney, back after three games out with an ankle injury, made his 500th United appearance, but having lost the ball in the build-up to the 55th-minute Tettey goal that was to prove the winner, it is not an occasion he will recall fondly.
It could prove an even costlier result for Van Gaal, who sat impassively in his seat as United vainly pushed for an equaliser after Anthony Martial reduced the arrears in the 65th minute.
Already feeling the heat from United’s fans over the dire quality of his side’s football, he has now presided over six games without a win in all competitions.
“I’ve encountered these circumstances also with other teams and other staff,” Van Gaal said.
“The main thing is that you have to be professional and do the things that you have to do and work very hard to come out of this bad period.”
Tottenham Hotspur took advantage by winning 2-0 at Southampton to capture fourth place. Harry Kane, after a neat run, and Dele Alli scored within three minutes of each other late in the first half.
Riyad Mahrez scored twice from the penalty spot, with Shinji Okazaki also on target, as Leicester won 3-2 at Everton, who netted through Romelu Lukaku, scorer for the seventh league game running, and Kevin Mirallas.
Bottom of the table this time last year, Leicester provisionally moved five points above Arsenal and six clear of Manchester City, who face off at the Emirates Stadium on Monday.
Lee Chung-Yong’s thumping 88th-minute goal saw sixth-place Crystal Palace win 2-1 at Stoke City, while Charlie Daniels’s late penalty gave Bournemouth a 2-1 victory at West Bromwich Albion, who had James McClean and Salomon Rondon sent off.
Bottom club Aston Villa drew 1-1 at fourth-bottom Newcastle United.