Liverpool was the big winner during the English Premier League's abbreviated holiday program, defeating Bolton Wanderers, 3-0, and Newcastle, 5-1, to open up a three-point lead over Chelsea at the top of the standings.
Steven Gerrard scored twice, and Sami Hyypia, Ryan Babel and Xabi Alonso added goals for Liverpool, which has not won a league title since the EPL was formed in 1992. Robbie Keane scored twice, and Albert Riera had the third goal against Bolton.
Assistant Sammy Lee has been standing in for manager Rafael Benitez, who is recovering from his recent bout with kidney stones,
"We have said you win nothing in December," said Lee, "but you can certainly lose a lot. All you can do is be in a position at any given time. We're very, very pleased to be going into the New Year at the top and that's all you can be."
Liverpool leads the EPL standings with 45 points, three more than Chelsea, followed by Manchester United, Aston Villa and Arsenal, all with 35 points. (United has three games in hand on Liverpool and meets Middlesbrough on Monday. Villa travels to Hull on Tuesday.)
Chelsea dropped three points behind the Reds when American Clint Dempsey's late equalizer, his second goal of the game, gave Fulham a 2-2 tie with the visiting Blues.
"We lost two points today," Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari said. "We made two mistakes with our marking and conceded two goals. I think they had one more chance -- we had 10 chances and scored two goals."
An epic relegation battle could be in order as five points separate teams in the bottom half of the EPL standings:
11. Bolton 23 (-6)
12. Portsmouth 23 (-12)
13. Manchester City 22 (+8)
14. Newcastle 22 (-6)
15. Sunderland 22 (-8)
16. Tottenham 20 (-5)
17. Middlesbrough 20 (-11)
18. Stoke 20 (-15)
19. Blackburn 18 (-14)
20. West Bromwich 18 (-19)
(Note:All have played 20 games except Middlesbrough, which has played 19.)