Chelsea rout Crystal Palace for 4-win stretch

Chelsea's John Terry clears a ball watched by Chelsea's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois during the English Premier League soccer match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea at Selhurst Park stadium in London, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)


BARCELONA — Rafa Benitez’s return to Valencia ended with his Real Madrid stumbling again in the Spanish league’s title race on Sunday, while Chelsea finally showed what made them champions in England last season.

Madrid wasted a chance to catch Barcelona in La Liga’s standings when it twice relinquished leads to draw 2-2 at Valencia in a match it ended with 10 men.

Chelsea routed Crystal Palace 3-0 in a dominant display that had shades of last season’s cruise to the English Premier League title.

In France, Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed home the winner as Paris Saint-Gemain started the defense of its French Cup title with a scrappy 1-0 win over fourth-tier team Wasquehal.

Here is a look at the major action from Europe on Sunday: Spain Madrid seemed set to romp to an easy victory after Karim Benzema finished off a superb move in the 16th minute, but Valencia’s Dani Parejo leveled from the penalty spot just before halftime.

Gareth Bale headed Madrid back in front in the 82nd despite his team playing a man down after Mateo Kovacic saw a direct red card for a low tackle of Joao Cancelo, only for Paco Alcacer to strike right back for the hosts a minute later.

Benitez will face even more scrutiny after Madrid failed to capitalize on Barcelona’s scoreless stalemate at Espanyol on Saturday and remained two points behind the defending champions, which have a game to play.

Madrid also fell four points behind provisional leader Atletico Madrid, the only title contender to win this round.

Benitez’s latest stumble came in his return to a Mestalla Stadium where he established his reputation with two league titles and a UEFA Cup trophy.

The struggling powerhouse will also have to be careful not to be caught by fourth-place Villarreal after Bruno Soriano scored his second of two goals deep into stoppage time to grab a 2-1 victory at Deportivo La Coruna.

Also, it was: Athletic Bilbao 2, Las Palmas 2; Real Betis 0, Eibar 4; Granada 2, Sevilla 1; and Rayo Vallecano 2, Real Sociedad 2. England Oscar, Willian and Diego Costa scored for Chelsea, which is out of realistic title contention following a dismal start to its defense. But it could still challenge for a Champions League spot on the evidence of its performance at Selhurst Park.

The champions are unbeaten in four matches under caretaker manager Guus Hiddink since firing Jose Mourinho a week before Christmas, but are still languishing in 14th place — 13 points behind fourth-place Tottenham.

Spurs lost ground in the title race by drawing 1-1 at Everton in Sunday’s other game, with Dele Alli’s superb volley earning Spurs a point after canceling out Aaron Lennon’s opener.

But Spurs’ domination at Goodison Park shows they are genuine challengers for the trophy. Only six points separate Tottenham and its north London rival Arsenal in first place, and Spurs have only lost twice all season in the league. France Playing its first game of 2016 in the northern city of Lille in rainy conditions, Paris Saint-Germain was in control throughout and created plenty of scoring chances.

But it lacked a cutting edge until Ibrahimovic connected with Marco Verratti’s long ball on the hour mark.

Facing amateur club Saint-Jean-Beaulieu, a team playing in the seventh tier of French soccer, Monaco took advantage of its opponents’ attacking style of play to catch them on the break and score goals galore in a 10-2 victory.

Among the top-tier teams also advancing to the round of 32 were Marseille, Lille, Lorient, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux, Lyon and Montpellier.