Manchester City FC via AP Images
January 01, 2015

LONDON (AP) -- Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City opened 2015 with characteristic collapses. Only defending champion City, though, had the quality to recover to put its English Premier League title defense back on track.

That piece of quality came from Frank Lampard, who clinched second-place City's 3-2 victory over Sunderland to avoid a second 2-2 draw against a struggling team in a week.

And it showed just how important it was for City late on New Year's Eve to secure Lampard until the end of the Premier League season rather than returning to sister club New York City FC to start the Major League Soccer campaign in March.

When the 36-year-old midfielder eventually leaves City it could be with a Premier League winners' medal to join the ones he collected with Chelsea.

The threat this season is coming from leader Chelsea, but not Arsenal and Liverpool, who are just fighting, and struggling, to make the top four.

Liverpool threw away a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with bottom-place Leicester and stay eighth, while Arsenal missed a chance to dislodge Southampton from fourth place by losing 2-0 at the surprise high-flier.

Southampton is only a point behind Manchester United after the third-place team drew 1-1 at Stoke, with Radamel Falcao recovering the point.

All three teams in the relegation zone drew. Crystal Palace, which is on the verge of completing the managerial signing of Alan Pardew from Newcastle, drew 0-0 at Aston Villa. Burnley drew 3-3 at Newcastle, which is yet to appoint Pardew's successor.

West Bromwich Albion confirmed Tony Pulis as the new manager earlier Thursday, and he was at Upton Park to see his team draw 1-1 at sixth-place West Ham to stay a point above the relegation zone.

Everton is surprisingly in the bottom half of the standings — three points above the danger zone — after Hull's 2-0 victory inflicted a fourth straight loss.

Queens Park Rangers' survival hopes were helped by a 1-1 draw against Swansea.

In the late game, leader Chelsea was at Tottenham.

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