MANCHESTER, England | Used sparingly by Chelsea during its long run of victories, Cesc Fabregas is providing significant reminders of his enduring value to the English Premier League leaders.
Two weeks ago, it was Fabregas’ raking pass to set up Diego Costa’s goal that sparked Chelsea’s come-from-behind win at Manchester City.
On Wednesday, it was the Spain midfielder’s classy goal — a one-two with Willian before a composed finish from the edge of the area — that earned Chelsea a 1-0 win at Sunderland, a 10th straight victory in the league and six-point lead over Liverpool and Arsenal in the Premier League.
Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas, right, scores his side's first goal during their English Premier League soccer match against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland, England, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016. (Anna Gowthorpe/PA via AP)
Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta, center right, scores his side's first goal of the game during their English Premier League soccer match against Watford at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016. (Martin Rickett/PA via AP)
Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas celebrates after scoring his side's first goal against Sunderland in action during their English Premier League match at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland, England, Wednesday Dec. 14, 2016. (Anna Gowthorpe / PA via AP)
Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game against Crystal Palace during their English Premier League soccer match at Selhurst Park in London, Wednesday Dec. 14, 2016. (Adam Davy / PA via AP)
“In football today, people forget very, very, very quickly who you are, and what you can do,” Fabregas said. “Hopefully now I can get a run of games in the team.”
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has been mostly selecting Nemanja Matic alongside the tireless N’Golo Kante in central midfield, an axis in a 3-4-3 formation that has driven the team to maximum points since Oct. 1.
The 29-year-old Fabregas covers less ground than Matic but offers something different: More vision, more creativity and a stronger goal threat. It’s not a bad selection headache for Conte to have.
“Some games you need players more physical and some games with more technical,” Conte said. “It is important that Cesc had a good game.”
In the early stages of Chelsea’s winning run, the team was scoring freely — five goals against Everton, four goals against Manchester United — but it has been eking out victories in recent weeks.
This was Chelsea’s third 1-0 win in its last five matches. In its 10 straight wins, Chelsea has only conceded two goals and this latest clean sheet was preserved by a stunning save by Thibaut Courtois off Patrick van Aanholt late in the game.
“You have seen many times that teams win titles with 1-0 wins,” Fabregas said. “Hopefully we can keep it up.”
It was a night when all of Chelsea’s potential title rivals — Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United — won.
Here’s a look at what else happened in the 16th round of games:
MIDDLESBROUGH 0, LIVERPOOL 3
Adam Lallana scored two goals and set up another to inspire Liverpool to victory as goalkeeper Simon Mignolet marked his return to the team with a clean sheet.
Mignolet regained his starting spot in place of Loris Karius, who was dropped after making errors in the last two matches, but had little to do.
Lallana headed home Nathaniel Clyne’s cross to put Liverpool ahead in the 29th minute, provided a low cross that was swept in by Divock Origi in the 60th, and wrapped up the win in the 68th with his sixth goal of the season.
Liverpool climbed into second place, above Arsenal on goals scored.
MANCHESTER CITY 2, WATFORD 0
City lost midfielder Ilkay Gundogan to a serious knee injury in a win that brought mixed emotions for manager Pep Guardiola.
Gundogan appeared to be in tears as he was helped off the field late in the first half, and Guardiola said after the match that the Germany international would be out for a “long time” with damaged ligaments.
The injury marred a welcome victory for Guardiola, with goals by Pablo Zabaleta and David Silva ensuring City bounced back from consecutive losses, to Chelsea and Leicester. Those defeats had sparked criticism by many pundits of Guardiola’s methods and philosophy.
City is fourth, seven points behind Chelsea.
CRYSTAL PALACE 1, MANCHESTER UNITED 2
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored an 88th-minute winner for United, which has collected consecutive victories in the league for the first time since August.
It was the Swedish striker’s 13th goal in his first season in English football, keeping United three points behind fifth-place Tottenham.
Paul Pogba slotted United in front on the stroke of halftime, before James McArthur equalized at Selhurst Park.
Christian Eriksen scored twice and had a hand in the other goal as Tottenham beat Hull 3-0, and Salomon Rondon scored a hat trick of headers to guide seventh-place West Bromwich Albion to a 3-1 win over Swansea.
Mark Noble’s penalty earned West Ham a 1-0 win over Burnley, while Stoke drew 0-0 against Southampton after surviving with 10 men for more than hour following Marko Arnautovic’s sending-off.