LONDON — Leicester City, so close to relegation last season, will be top of the Premier League at Christmas after they earned another away victory with a 3-2 win at Everton on Saturday.
Riyad Mahrez scored twice – both from the penalty spot – and Shinji Okazaki got the other as Leicester moved five points clear of Arsenal, who play third-placed Manchester City on Monday.
Leicester are the first side ever to be bottom at Christmas one year and top of the table 12 months later. In five of the past six years, the team who was top at Christmas has gone on to win the Premier League.
Mahrez put Claudio Ranieri's team on 27 minutes after Okazaki was held by Ramiro Funes Mori but Romelu Lukaku equalized five minutes later.
Midway through the second half, Mahrez again scored from the spot, this time after Jamie Vardy was tripped by goalkeeper Tim Howard and Okazaki made it 3-1 before a late consolation from Kevin Mirallas.
"Two points to go," said Ranieri, who continues to insist that they still need to reach 40 points for safety.
"Nice to have 38 by Christmas, but I've already told the players to clear their minds and go forward."
Manchester United dropped out of the top four as they were stunned 2-1 at home by Norwich, Tottenham moved above them after a 2-0 win at Southampton, and Chelsea began life after Jose Mourinho with a 3-1 win over Sunderland.
Manchester United are now winless in six matches – and four in the Premier League – after a shock 2-1 defeat at home by Norwich, who moved out of the bottom three.
Cameron Jerome put Norwich in front seven minutes before half-time and on 54 minutes, Alex Tettey doubled their lead.
Anthony Martial pulled one back with 25 minutes to go but Norwich held on to drop Louis van Gaal's side to fifth, boos ringing out at the final whistle.
"That was not good enough today," Van Gaal said. "We have to win against Norwich and we know that.
"I can say a lot of things but every word is too much I think. You can see what confidence is doing to the players. Now it's very important that everybody sticks together."
Tottenham leapfrogged them into fourth as two goals in four minutes from Harry Kane and Dele Alli gave them a 2-0 win at Southampton.
At Stamford Bridge, new manager Guus Hiddink, who will replace the sacked Jose Mourinho until the end of the season, watched from the stands as his side beat second-bottom Sunderland 3-1.
Branislav Ivanovic, Pedro and Oscar scored the goals to lift them to 15th, albeit still only four points above the bottom three.
"We needed to win and we've done that," Chelsea captain John Terry said.
"There was a lot of pressure before the game but we brought it on ourselves. Chelsea is such a big club. We are not used to being here, we've had a lot of good times in the last 10 years.
"We are disappointed (about Mourinho) (but) it falls on his head unfortunately," he said.
Crystal Palace are level on points with United after a 2-1 win at Stoke, a result that had Stoke manager Mark Hughes cursing his luck.
"That's two years running they have come here and nicked the points," said Hughes, after Lee Chung-yong scored the winner two minutes from time.
Bournemouth remain 14th after a 2-1 win at West Brom, who ended the match with nine men after the sending-off of James McClean and Salomon Rondon.
Aston Villa remain five points adrift at the bottom despite picking up a 1-1 draw in a rain-soaked match at Newcastle, who are 17th, one place above the bottom three.
Story: Simon Cambers / DPA