By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Liverpool’s defensive gremlins returned again as their Premier League title ambitions suffered a painful body blow in a shock 3-2 home defeat by relegation battlers Swansea City on Saturday.
In what turned out to be a great day for leaders Chelsea without kicking a ball, second-placed Tottenham Hotspur battled back to draw 2-2 at fifth-placed Manchester City and Manchester United were held 1-1 at Stoke City.
Wayne Rooney salvaged a point for United with a sublime free kick that made him the club’s record scorer with 250 goals, one ahead of Old Trafford great Bobby Charlton.
Rooney’s curler four minutes into stoppage time canceled out an own goal from Juan Mata as United remained in sixth spot.
“It means a hell of a lot. It is a great honor and I am very proud,” the 31-year-old Rooney said.
“It is difficult at the minute to be over-pleased because of the result but in the grand scheme it is huge honor.”
Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 74th-minute winner ended Liverpool’s 17-match unbeaten league run at Anfield and left Juergen Klopp’s side seven points behind leaders Chelsea who can widen their lead against strugglers Hull City on Sunday.
Spain striker Fernando Llorente scored twice shortly after halftime to put Swansea in charge but Liverpool retaliated and two goals by Roberto Firmino dragged them level.
Klopp’s side were the first top-flight team to score 50 goals this season but their defensive deficiencies again proved a thorn in their side as memories of a 4-3 defeat at Bournemouth in December came flooding back minutes later.
A Liverpool victory had looked the most likely outcome with half an hour left but Swansea had other ideas and from a rare foray forward the ball fell to Sigurdsson and the Icelander coolly put the Welsh side back ahead.
Liverpool could not respond, leaving Klopp crestfallen.
“The most disappointing moment was the third goal and I can’t explain it as we had so many chances to challenge,” the German said. “It’s really difficult to accept at this moment.
“It is fair Swansea won, no – but was it deserved, yes.”
Tottenham’s six-match winning run was ended by City but it could have been far worse for Mauricio Pochettino’s side in a compelling late kickoff at the Etihad.
City, smarting from last week’s 4-0 drubbing at Everton, dominated a scoreless first half and were gifted a two-goal lead within nine minutes of the restart as howlers by Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris allowed Leroy Sane and Kevin de Bruyne to tap in.
Dele Alli and Son Heung-min replied for Tottenham but the visitors enjoyed a huge slice of good fortune seconds before Son’s equalizer when Kyle Walker got away with a blatant shove in the back of Raheem Sterling as he seemed set to score.
“It doesn’t matter, we had the same argument against Chelsea but we lost because we missed a lot of chances. When you score a goal the ref doesn’t matter, the rules here are the rules,” City boss Pep Guardiola said, ruing a glut of missed chances.
“We were outstanding, it’s a pity. We created so many chances and were not able to score.”
Tottenham moved clear in second spot, six points behind Chelsea, although Arsenal could rise above them with victory over Burnley on Sunday.
Improving West Ham United won for the fifth time in seven league games to move into the top half – Andy Carroll again on target with two goals in a 3-1 victory at Middlesbrough.
Sunderland sunk to the bottom after goals by West Bromwich Albion’s Darren Fletcher and Chris Brunt condemned them to a fourth defeat in five league games.
Bournemouth drew 2-2 with Watford and Crystal Palace ended the day in the bottom three for the first time this season after a tame 1-0 home defeat by Everton, Seamus Coleman thumping home a late winner for the visitors.
Champions Leicester City are at Southampton on Sunday.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)