LONDON - Chelsea bounced back from their mini-slump and surged to the top of the Premier League with a 3-0 home victory over Stoke City thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah, Frank Lampard and Willian at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
A 32nd minute strike by Salah, making his first start since joining Chelsea in January, and second-half efforts from Lampard, whose initial penalty was saved by Asmir Begovic, and Brazilian Willian saw the Blues move on to 72 points.
They are one point ahead of Liverpool, who can return to the summit by avoiding defeat at West Ham United on Sunday, and two ahead of Manchester City, who beat Southampton 4-1 in Saturday's early match and have two games in hand on the leaders.
Manchester United moved above Tottenham Hotspur into sixth place with a 4-0 win at Newcastle United ahead of Wednesday's Champions League return at Bayern Munich, while Fulham moved off the bottom of the table with a 2-1 victory at Aston Villa.
Chelsea's win brought some cheer back to west London after a tough seven days which saw Jose Mourinho's side lose 1-0 at Crystal Palace last weekend and 3-1 at Paris St Germain in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday.
"Normally after a defeat you don't start confidently but this team today went upwards all the time," the Portuguese told Sky Sports. "In the first half we should have been 2-0 or 3-0 up because we played well. After the second goal the game was over.
"I think the team played well and we were solid defensively. That was only possible with the contribution of every player. With the ball we were fast, Mohamed Salah and Willian won individual duals.
"It's a pity Fernando Torres didn't score because goals give confidence but he worked hard for the team and I'm pleased with him," added Mourinho, having criticised his strikers after the defeat at PSG who they host on Tuesday in the second leg.
Stoke seem like a new side under Mark Hughes and four wins in their last five matches means no threat of relegation, but they struggled to create any real openings.
Salah settled home nerves after 32 minutes, calmly finishing after Nemanja Matic created space for himself down the left and cut the ball back for the Egyptian.
Chelsea thought they had doubled their lead just before the break but Branislav Ivanovic was correctly ruled offside after heading in Salah's cross.
The hosts got a deserved second after 61 minutes when Salah was hacked down in the box by Andy Wilkinson.
Lampard's spot kick was saved but he buried the rebound before Willian capped an industrious display with Chelsea's third goal, clipping a delightful shot into the corner.
Southampton, this season's surprise package, were on the back foot almost immediately at Manchester City when Jose Fonte brought down Edin Dzeko after three minutes.
Ivorian Yaya Toure calmly converted his sixth penalty from six attempts this season for his 18th league goal overall.
The Saints slowly rallied with the trio of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, who were hoping to impress watching England manager Roy Hodgson, pulling the strings with width provided by Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers.
They suffered a major blow after 23 minutes, however, when Rodriguez landed awkwardly on his right leg after attempting to control a high ball and was carried off in tears with possible knee ligament damage raising doubts about his World Cup hopes.
Southampton deservedly equalised through Lambert's penalty, his 11th league goal this season, after Jack Cork was felled by defender Pablo Zabaleta in the 36th minute.
The visitors were playing well and looked like they would go into the break level but instead they let their good work go to waste by allowing City to wrestle back control.
First, Frenchman Nasri sidefooted home after being set up following a fine move involving Toure, Dzeko and David Silva, although the Spaniard appeared offside.
In the fourth minute of first half added time, Dzeko then headed into an empty net after goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga dived but missed Aleksandar Kolarov's cross.
Jovetic added a final flourish for City, scoring a simple goal after Jesus Navas' cross evaded the suffering Gazzaniga.
"I don't remember Joe Hart making an important save," City manager Manuel Pellegrini told BT Sport. "They had possession but no real chances to score."
Southampton's Pochettino said the failure of the officials to rule out the second goal for offside ended the contest.
"This action from the linesman for the second goal killed the game, the linesman killed the game," he told BT Sport.
"It's clear that the second goal changed it. We were superior up to that point."
Manchester United, missing injured strikers Wayene Rooney and Robin van Persie, won easily at Newcastle United, Juan Mata scoring twice and Javier Hernandez and Adnan Januzaj adding one each, although they lost Ashley Young with a hand injury.
For Alan Pardew's Newcastle it was a second straight 4-0 loss with the win boosting United who visit Bayern on Wednesday in their Champions League quarter-final level at 1-1.
Fulham had Hugo Rodallega's late goal to thak for their win at Villa which took them above Sunderland, who play on Monday, Cardiff City who lost 3-0 at home to Crystal Palace.
Jason Puncheon's double and a Joe Ledley strike extended Cardiff's miserable run under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Palace scoring three away goals in a top-flight match for the first time since 1997.
Fulham moved up to 18th on 27 points with Cardiff in 19th place on 26 and Sunderland, who next visit Spurs, a further point back but with three matches in hand.
West Bromwich Albion, who finally appear to have hit form under Pepe Mel, won 1-0 at fellow strugglers Norwich City with an early goal from Morgan Amalfitano while George Boyd's strike gave Hull City a 1-0 victory at Swansea City. (Editing by Ken Ferris)