AT STAMFORD BRIDGE
CHELSEA 3 vs MANCHESTER UNITED 1
MANCHESTER United’s chances of retaining their Premier League title were written off by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho yesterday, after the Reds suffered a seventh league defeat of the season.
Striker Samuel Eto’o rolled back the years to hit a clinical hat-trick, taking full advantage of United’s haphazard defending at set pieces.
It means the champions now trail league leaders Arsenal by 14 points, while Manchester City and Chelsea are each a point further back. And while Mourinho feels a title challenge is now unrealistic for United, he hopes they can still attain Champions League qualification with a top-four finish.
“There is 14 points difference and 13 and 12, can they recover to one of these teams? They can. But to recover to three of them, it needs three teams to have a collapse,” said Mourinho, who enjoyed his 100th Premier League win as Blues’ boss.
“For the title it will be difficult for them. What I hope they do is they beat all of them to finish top four, that’s what I wish.”
United boss David Moyes, however, insists his side will adopt the never-say-die attitude to the title race, synonymous with teams built by his predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson.
“What we won’t do is throw in the towel until we can’t get there,” he said.
“Our job is to finish first and we’ll keep trying to do that.
“I hoped I would be in a far better position than this, so the challenge is there for me and I’m looking forward to it, because I know that it’s up the league where we need to go.”
United made a high-tempo start to the contest, with Petr Cech forced into a smart save at his near post to deny Ashley Young.
But on 17 minutes Eto’o took control of Jonny Evans’ weak headed clearance, turned inside Phil Jones and curled a deflected 20-yard effort over the head of a despairing David de Gea.
The Blues doubled their advantage on the stroke of half-time when Eto’o, unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, stroked in Gary Cahill’s centre.
And three minutes after half-time United were beaten when Eto’o bundled in a loose ball, after De Gea had kept out Cahill’s downward header.
United were toothless in attack until the arrival of Javier Hernandez from the bench, who turned in Jones’ low drive from four yards on 78 minutes.
In the added-on time United captain Nemanja Vidic was shown a straight red card for a reckless tackle on Eden Hazard, while right-back Rafael was fortunate to escape the same fate following a two-footed lunge at Cahill.