Jorginho scored two penalties as Chelsea fought back after a goal to defeat Aston Villa and draw level on points with runner-up Liverpool.
Villa had taken the lead in the 28th minute when Matt Targett’s cross was hit from the left by Chelsea defender Reece James and his header sent the ball past Edouard Mendy into the net for his own goal.
But Chelsea equalized six minutes later when Jorginho converted a penalty after Callum Hudson-Odoi was knocked down by Matty Cash in an awkward tackle in the 18-yard area.
Substitute Romelu Lukaku, who missed three games due to Covid-19, was substituted on at the beginning of the second half and hit a header within 11 minutes of a cross from Hudson-Odoi.
Lukaku helped score Chelsea’s third goal when he won an added-time penalty that converted Jorginho for his second goal of the game.
The win gives Chelsea their first win in three Premier League games, placing them in third place, behind Liverpool in terms of goal difference and six points behind leaders Manchester City.
“I think we’re the hunters now,” Lukaku told Sky Sports. “The last results weren’t the best for us. And now we have to hunt.
“I think I needed such an effort today. It’s tough when you’re not there and every player always wants to participate, but the coach has his reasons.”
The return of Lukaku makes all the difference
Chelsea topped the league after beating Watford 2-1 on December 1 before falling behind City by just five points from four games in the title race, but this was a hard-earned and much-needed win.
Villa was without a manager Steven Gerrard after testing positive for Covid-19, and assistant Gary McAllister gave the instructions from the contact line.
Chelsea was also affected by Covid-19 and boss Thomas Tuchel had unsuccessfully applied to postpone their goalless draw at Wolves on December 19.
Kai Havertz and Timo Werner had to be done without, but Lukaku was back in the squad and Hudson-Odoi returned to the starting line-up.
Mason Mount almost gave them a lucky lead when a false cross hit the top of the bar before Villa gained a bit of luck himself.
James turned Targett’s cross into his own net, although Blues goalkeeper Mendy should have done better than he got his hands on but couldn’t hold the ball.
Chelsea were soon level with Jorginho’s first penalty.
Tuchel switched to defender Trevoh Chalobah at halftime through Lukaku, but the German had to be replaced six minutes later when Thiago Silva was injured and Andreas Christensen replaced him.
After Lukaku’s goal, Mount Chelsea should have expanded its lead. He had put the ball past goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and while only defender Tyrone Mings was guarding the net, the English midfielder shot past goal.
Hudson-Odoi had also saved a late Martinez goal, but those misses didn’t prove costly as Chelsea scored their third goal late.
It came from a stormy run by Lukaku, in which the striker was defeated by Ezri Konsa and Jorginho retained his ninth goal of the season and his sixth in six games.
Villa is 11th in the Premier League and McAllister said: “I’ve spoken to Steven [Gerrard] since his diagnosis and he’s obviously very frustrated.
“We’re in this world of Zoom and there are ways to communicate. We were in constant contact with each other during the game.
“He’s supposed to be back on Friday and we have four or five days to work and try to correct things that didn’t go so well.”