Chelsea eas­ing to EPL ti­tle; Ar­se­nal in FA Cup fi­nal

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY ROB HAR­RIS

While rarely ruth­less, Chelsea is eas­ing to the English Pre­mier League ti­tle. With a 1-0 victory over Manch­ester United on Satur­day, Chelsea surged 10 points clear of Ar­se­nal.

But as Ar­se­nal’s hopes of a first league ti­tle since 2004 took a fur­ther hit, the FA Cup holder did clinch a place in a sec­ond suc­ces­sive fi­nal. Alexis Sanchez scored twice as Ar­se­nal beat Read­ing 2-1 af­ter be­ing forced into ex­tra time by the sec­ondtier club at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium.

Chelsea has al­ready col­lected a tro­phy at Wem­b­ley this sea­son — the League Cup — and the Pre­mier League tro­phy could be se­cured by the end of this month.

Eden Haz­ard bol­stered his player-ofthe-year cre­den­tials with the only goal that halted third-place United’s six-game win­ning run. If Chelsea wins at Ar­se­nal next Sun­day, Jose Mour­inho’s side can se­cure the ti­tle with four games to spare with a victory at Le­ices­ter on April 29.

“When math­e­mat­i­cally it’s done, it’s done, we cel­e­brate,” Mour­inho said, main­tain­ing that his play­ers’ on-pitch cel­e­bra­tion on Satur­day was not a pre­ma­ture ti­tle party with fans.

“The cel­e­bra­tion is be­cause the play­ers gave ev­ery­thing to win that game.”

It’s far tighter at the bot­tom of the stand­ings. Le­ices­ter is mount­ing a late fight for sur­vival, climb­ing off the bot­tom by beat­ing Swansea 2-0. But Burn­ley dropped to last place by los­ing 1-0 at Ever­ton.

West Bromwich Al­bion moved eight points from dan­ger af­ter manager Tony Pulis got the bet­ter of for­mer club Crys­tal Palace with a 2-0 victory. Southamp­ton missed a chance to close in on the top four Cham­pi­ons League places, stay­ing sixth af­ter los­ing 2-1 at Stoke.

It was an un­usual day when two of the big­gest games of the sea­son were played at the same time in dif­fer­ent com­pe­ti­tions, due to the tele­vi­sion sched­ulers.

At Stam­ford Bridge, some United play­ers wrongly started cel­e­brat­ing in­side five min­utes, be­liev­ing Wayne Rooney scored rather than hit­ting the side netting.

In fact, the only goal of the game came from Haz­ard, as Chelsea coped with­out in­jured strik­ers Diego Costa and Loic Remy.

United’s strug­gling striker Radamel Fal­cao, mak­ing his first start since Fe­bru­ary, was forced off the ball by John Terry on half­way, and Cesc Fabre­gas then re­leased the ball to Os­car. A neat back­heel from Os­car met a sprint­ing Haz­ard, who slot­ted the ball through goal­keeper David de Gea’s legs at the goal­keeper’s near post in the 38th minute.

“Eden had that magic that the top ones have, es­pe­cially in big matches,” Mour­inho said.

United manager Louis van Gaal was frus­trated to leave west Lon­don point­less given his side’s dom­i­na­tion in the sec­ond half. But United has an eight-point ad­van­tage over fifth-place Liver­pool, and is primed to re­turn to the Cham­pi­ons League next sea­son.

“When you can play in Chelsea like this, as the dom­i­nant team, then I’m very happy with that, but I’m very dis­ap­pointed,” Van Gaal said.

At Wem­b­ley Sta­dium, it was a goal­keep­ing blun­der that en­abled Ar­se­nal to avoid em­bar­rass­ment against Read­ing.

With the ex­tra time break loom­ing, Sanchez took a pass from Me­sut Ozil and sent in a spec­u­la­tive shot through three de­fend­ers. Goal­keeper Adam Fed­erici should have eas­ily kept it out, but it went be­tween his legs and slid slowly into the net.

Ozil also set up Sanchez’s first goal of the semi­fi­nal just be­fore half­time. A per­fectly weighted pass was sent to Sanchez, who brought down the ball on his chest and slot­ted a low shot past Fed­erici.

Garath McCleary equal­ized early in the sec­ond half, but Sanchez en­sured Ar­se­nal will con­test the May 30 fi­nal against Liver­pool or As­ton Villa, who play on Sun­day.

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