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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho masterminded a brilliant and unexpected 2-0 home victory over former club Chelsea on Sunday to breathe new life into the Premier League title race.
Mourinho gambled by resting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera’s goals gave United a win that leaves Chelsea just four points above Tottenham Hotspur with six games to play.
Victory at Old Trafford also lifted United to within four points of fourth-place Manchester City, on whom they have a game in hand, ahead of the derby at the Etihad Stadium on April 27.
It was a personal triumph for Mourinho, who saw his side thrashed 4-0 at Chelsea in October and was branded “Judas” by fans of his old club during last month’s FA Cup defeat at Stamford Bridge.
A wet, cold Manchester afternoon was the setting for United to end a run of 12 games without victory against Chelsea, stretching back to a 3-2 away win in October 2012.
Chelsea have now lost twice in four games, having gone down 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace earlier this month, which will give in-form Spurs fresh hope that the Blues may yet collapse as the finishing line nears.
The top two meet at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-finals next weekend in what now looks a significant test of Chelsea’s mettle.
United, meanwhile, will approach Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg at home to Anderlecht, which is poised at 1-1, on the back of their best display under Mourinho.
Chelsea were without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois due to an ankle problem, while Marcos Alonso succumbed to a virus, bringing Asmir Begovic and Kurt Zouma into their usual first XI.
Mourinho set United up to stop Chelsea, with Herrera and Matteo Darmian tasked with the responsibility of tracking dangermen Eden Hazard and Pedro wherever they went.
But despite Herrera’s chief role as a stifler, he created United’s seventh-minute opener, albeit in contentious circumstances.
He seemed to block Nemanja Matic’s pass with his right hand, but referee Robert Madley played on, enabling Herrera to split the Chelsea defence with a sublime through ball for Rashford.
The 19-year-old raced in behind David Luiz before clipping a shot past Begovic for his ninth goal of the season.
Costa became embroiled in penalty-box tangles with United centre-backs Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo and was booked for a late challenge on Paul Pogba.
With the willing Jesse Lingard in support of Rashford, United looked far more lively going forward.
Ashley Young twice spurned presentable shooting opportunities from the edge of the box, while Rashford saw a cross headed onto the roof of the net by Gary Cahill.
Short of a 25-yard drive by Costa that flashed wide in stoppage time, the half-time whistle sounded without Chelsea having offered anything in attack.
Any hopes the visitors had of masterminding a turnaround vanished within four minutes of kick-off in the second half as Herrera doubled United’s lead.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte sent on Cesc Fabregas for Victor Moses, with Pedro moving to wing-back, but still the league leaders toiled, Pedro twice curling shots over De Gea’s bar.
At the other end Rashford remained a constant menace, teeing up Lingard to bend a shot over and twice going close himself, ruffling the side-netting and testing Begovic at his near post.
When he departed in the 82nd minute, with Ibrahimovic taking his place, he was accorded a richly deserved standing ovation.
Arsene Wenger faces renewed calls to resign after Arsenal’s miserable season spiralled out of control with furious fans turning on his flops during their humiliating 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace.
Wenger’s side hit a new low on a chastening evening in south London as struggling Palace condemned the shambolic Gunners to their heaviest Premier League defeat of the season.
Wenger’s side have lost four successive away league games for the first time in his 21-year reign as manager.
Goals from Andros Townsend, Yohan Cabaye and Luka Milivojevic gave Palace their first home win over Arsenal since 1979 and left Wenger in turmoil after his team’s fifth defeat in their last eight league games.
With many Arsenal supporters again demanding Wenger resign, the toxic atmosphere around the north Londoners boiled over as fans refused to give the ball back to Gunners right-back Hector Bellerin when it went into the away section in the second half.
Instead, they berated Bellerin and his team-mates with chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”, with the Spaniard having to be consoled by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain when he was jeered again at the final whistle.
Wenger and his squad were targeted for more abuse when they made their way from the dressing room to the team bus. Arsenal’s shocking surrender leaves them in sixth place, lagging seven points behind fourth placed Manchester City.
With Wenger’s record of leading Arsenal into the Champions League for 19 consecutive years in severe danger, the beleaguered Frenchman acknowledged he has to find a way to avoid the mutinous mood wrecking what may yet prove to be his final season in charge.
“I want the fans to support the team, but I can understand they are extremely frustrated, like we all are,” Wenger said.
“We came with the desire to win the game, but in the decisive moments of the game Palace were sharper.
“To see us lose in that way is disappointing. It’s part of my job to build the confidence. We have a week to do it. it’s our job. we will try to do it.”
Faced with the prospect of missing out on the Champions League for the first time since 1997, Wenger has hardly helped his cause by refusing to confirm if he will sign an extension to the contract which runs out at the end of the season.
The uncertainty over his future has been a major distraction for a team lacking the fighting spirit required to cope with adversity.
Wenger conceded Arsenal’s chances of making the Champions League via a top-four finish look bleak, but he refused to be drawn on whether or not he will stay.
“I think it will be very difficult certainly,” he said. “I don’t want to speak about me tonight. I’m not in the mood.
“At the moment I pay more respect to the fact we had a disappointing result.”
Looking shell-shocked and far less defiant than he often is at such downbeat moments, Wenger must have been devastated by the way the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott went missing when he needed them most.
Arsenal legend Ian Wright claimed Wenger has lost the support of his players and even the Gunners boss admitted Palace had shown more passion.
“They were sharper and more decisive than us,” he said. “In the second half they came out strong and scored again.
“After that it was more difficult. “I don’t say the players gave up. For a long time we were unbeaten away but since we lost a few we don’t have the confidence. “You could sense it had an impact on us after the second goal.”
Palace moved six points clear of the bottom three and boss Sam Allardyce hailed a magical 10 days that also included a win at leaders Chelsea.
“One or two more results and we should be safe, but it’s a massive night for everybody, and a huge week for us all,” he said.
Jose Mourinho suggested last weekend that he had considered abandoning a push for the Premier League’s top four to focus on European competition and failure to beat Sunderland on Sunday may see that pledge become a reality.
United’s best hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League increasingly appears to be by winning the Europa League, with the first leg of their quarter-final against Anderlecht in Belgium on Thursday.
Mourinho’s team face a congested fixture list — the visit to Sunderland will be their third of nine matches during April.
The first two ended in disappointing home draws against West Bromwich Albion and Everton, leaving United four points adrift of the top four with a game in hand.
At least, Mourinho has his leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic back.
The former Paris Saint-Germain striker was not at his best against Everton on his return from a three-match domestic ban, but showed the calmness required to convert the 94th-minute penalty that secured United a point.
Ibrahimovic, with 27 goals in all competitions for United this season, is a reassuring presence in an attack that is otherwise struggling.
Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford have scored 21 goals between them this season, but only nine of those have come in the league.
Rashford’s last league goal was on September 24, and he has looked desperately short of confidence lately.
A failure to convert chances is certainly a factor in United’s inability to close on the top four.
In the two matches against West Brom and Everton, they managed a total of 36 efforts on goal, yet scored only once.
“Looking to next season, I think it’s a good feeling to know we haven’t lost many matches,” Mourinho said.
“It’s good to know we’re 20 matches undefeated in the Premier League. Ten draws in 10 matches is 10 points; five victories and five defeats in 10 matches is 15 points. But the points are the reality.”
Mourinho is hopeful that Paul Pogba’s return to fitness will help in that respect.
The France midfielder, recovered from a hamstring problem, hit the bar after coming on at half-time against Everton, and is likely to start at Sunderland.
Luke Shaw, who also returned as a substitute on Wednesday after a long spell out of favour, is set to be on the bench again.
Sunderland manager David Moyes has predicted a major summer upheaval as the Wearside club prepare for life in the Championship.
The Scot insists the fight to remain in the Premier League will go on until survival is mathematically impossible, but concedes his rock bottom side require a miracle in order to bridge the 10-point gap to safety with eight games remaining.
Despite imminent relegation, Moyes has been backed to remain at the helm in the hope the former Manchester United manager can lead a successful promotion campaign next season.
The 53-year-old concedes that will involve another massive shake-up in personnel at a club that has become accustomed to huge changes in the wake of fighting four successive successful relegation battles.
Top scorer Jermain Defoe is set to leave on a free, and Sunderland will part-finance their spending by cashing-in on England Under-21 goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who is a target for several Premier League clubs.
Record signing Didier N’Dong, Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Jan Kirchhoff are also set to leave if the Wearsiders’ 10-year stay in the top-flight comes to an end in May.
“There will be a change around of players again. Lots of players came in on loan or free transfers last summer and there will be a big turn around of players again,” Moyes said.
“We were short of players at the start of last season so I’d be surprised if it was much different going into the next season.”
Antonio Conte has warned his Chelsea stars not to worry about Tottenham’s results as the Premier League title race hots up this weekend.
With just eight games remaining Chelsea are clinging to a precious seven-point lead over second-placed Tottenham, but the Blues are showing a few glimpses of vulnerability.
Conte’s side ground out a barely deserved 2-1 win over Manchester City on Wednesday just days after crashing to a shock 2-1 home defeat against struggling Crystal Palace.
Meanwhile, Tottenham have reeled off five successive victories, including an incredible escape act at Swansea on Wednesday when they scored three times in the final minutes to clinch a 3-1 success.
With Chelsea playing on Saturday evening at Bournemouth, Tottenham have the chance to turn up the pressure again by temporarily trimming the lead to four points with a win against Watford at White Hart Lane a few hours earlier.
But Conte is adamant his players must forget about Tottenham’s form because Chelsea have their fate in their own hands.
“This race is open. I think now I can see two teams, Chelsea and Tottenham, in this race,” Conte said.
“There’s always pressure. If they win, if they lose, if they draw. It’s the same.
“It’s very important for us to look at ourselves and not the others. Tottenham’s result is important, but our results are the most important things.”
The Premier League era is littered with epic collapses from teams who thought the title was theirs and, with Chelsea needing 18 points to be certain of top spot, Blues midfielder Cesc Fabregas isn’t getting carried away yet.
“We’ve been saying it since the beginning of the season: it’s one game at a time,” he said.
“We have to worry about ourselves, not what the others are doing. As long as we keep winning then we don’t have to worry.”
Tottenham’s title hopes looked over until Dele Alli equalised in the 88th minute before Son Heung-Min and Christian Eriksen struck in stoppage time to kill off Swansea.
The wild celebrations from boss Mauricio Pochettino, his coaching staff and Tottenham’s players and fans underlined their relief at a result that allows them to continue dreaming of a first English title since 1961.
Having choked last season when they failed to catch champions Leicester in the closing weeks, Pochettino’s side are back in the hunt and Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen said: “Chelsea look very strong but we can’t stop pushing and dreaming of the league.
“They have a couple of difficult games coming up. We have to keep winning and hopefully they get a bit stressed.
“I don’t know what is necessary to win the league, maybe a bit of luck, but I think this group has massive quality and is very special.”
The battle for Champions League qualification via the top four seems certain to go down to the wire.
Third-placed Liverpool, six points above fifth-placed Arsenal, can’t afford another slip when they face Stoke after allowing Bournemouth a late equaliser in a midweek 2-2 draw.
Reds boss Jurgen Klopp urged his team to emulate Chelsea’s steely streak when points are on the line.
“Probably if it was Chelsea, for example, the opponent would not have the ball three times in the last 20 minutes, I think. We don’t have this experience,” Klopp said.
Fourth-placed Manchester City, who host Hull, are without a win in four games and sit only four points above Arsenal, who have a game in hand and travel to Crystal Palace on Monday.
Manchester United are sixth and head to bottom-of-the-table Sunderland aiming to add to their former manager David Moyes’s problems.
Home draws against West Bromwich Albion and Everton have damaged United’s chances of making the top four and a win at the Stadium of Light is essential.
Jose Mourinho’s side can also push Sunderland — a hefty 10 points from safety — closer to the Championship at the end of a week in which Moyes was forced to apologise after threating to “slap” a female reporter.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return from suspension may be just the lift that Manchester United need as they attempt to improve their Premier League home form against Everton on Tuesday.
The former Paris Saint-Germain striker, United’s leading scorer this season, has missed three domestic matches through suspension – in which time Jose Mourinho’s team have been knocked out of the FA Cup and lost ground in the race for a top-four finish.
Ibrahimovic was certainly missed on Saturday as United drew at home in the league for the eighth time this season, as they were held 0-0 by West Bromwich Albion.
Time after time, Mourinho’s men have dominated possession at Old Trafford against visiting teams, yet failed to make their superiority count.
So it was at the weekend, as United enjoying 75 per cent of the possession yet managed only three shots on target.
In United’s defence, they were without not only Ibrahimovic, but also Ander Herrera, who was suspended too, plus injury victims Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, yet it was still a hugely disappointing display.
Mourinho was particularly angry with his front four of Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, and may make changes beyond bringing back Ibrahimovic.
This is a busy period for United, who are scheduled to play nine matches during April.
If there is no sign of improvement in Premier League form against Everton or at Sunderland this coming Sunday, Mourinho has indicated that he will put his focus on winning the Europa League, and securing a Champions League place that way.
“After Sunderland, the Europa League comes, and then I don’t know,” he said.
“Then, it’s possible that you see me play in the Premier League with a team where I’m going to protect the players that I consider fundamental for the Europa League.
“But only, only if the results in the next matches put us in a situation where mathematically, it becomes almost impossible to do it.”
- Heavy criticism -
France midfielder Pogba should return against Everton, having been able to take part in a training session on the pitch after Saturday’s match.
He was left out of the squad against West Brom as a precaution because of the hamstring injury that kept him out of France’s matches against Luxembourg and Spain during the recent international break.
Herrera is also available after his ban, but Mata, Smalling and Jones will be longer-term absentees; the Spanish winger is expected to miss the remainder of the season following groin surgery last week.
Everton are seeking improvement themselves, having performed poorly in losing 3-1 at Liverpool in Saturday’s Merseyside derby.
Ross Barkley has come in for particularly heavy criticism in the media, having been very fortunate not to be sent off at Anfield for a dangerous challenge on Dejan Lovren when already on a booking.
Everton manager Ronald Koeman did say in public after the game that he was proud of his team’s performance.
But they have played much better than that over the last three months, losing just two of their last 13 league matches and looking comfortable in seventh place.
Koeman is short of defensive options, with Seamus Coleman recovering from a broken leg and Ramiro Funes Mori set to miss the final weeks of the season after suffering a knee injury while playing for Argentina.
A back three of Matthew Pennington, Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka did not work too well at Anfield, but Koeman may have to stick with that set-up.
“We won’t be taking too many positives from Saturday, but we’ve got a big game on Tuesday,” said Jagielka.
Chelsea will aim to resume their steady march towards the Premier League title after an international break in which the focus was on the future of Eden Hazard.
The 26-year-old Belgian star sat out Chelsea’s last game at Stoke City as well as Belgium’s fixtures during the recess with a calf problem but should return for the visit of Crystal Palace to Stamford Bridge.
The forward, though, has still found himself the centre of attention following reports this week he is a target for Real Madrid.
Hazard has been one of the main factors in Chelsea’s dominance of the Premier League table this season -– Antonio Conte’s side face Palace sitting ten points clear, with ten games remaining –- after rediscovering the form he showed in the 2015 title triumph.
Chelsea are determined to hold on to the player but the interest from Spain has provided an unwanted distraction as Conte attempts to maintain his team’s concentration during the run-in.
But the head coach’s efforts won’t have been helped by comments made this week by former Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon who insisted Hazard’s future will be decided by the player himself.
Calderon told talkSPORT radio station: “Chelsea aren’t a selling club, so it wouldn’t be easy, but as always it would depend on the wishes of the player. If he wants to leave, he will leave — that’s always the point.”
There has been no indication Hazard wants to leave and Conte will expect the player’s response against a much-improved Palace to underline his commitment to remaining at Stamford Bridge.
The return of striker Diego Costa, who missed Spain’s meeting with France because of ankle injury, will also help Conte’s side pick up from where they left off before the break.
The victory at Stoke was secured by a late goal from Gary Cahill that came as a blow to second-placed Tottenham who have been hoping to capitalise on any slips made by Conte’s side.
With an FA Cup semi-final meeting with Tottenham also looming at the end of April, Conte remains on course for a league and cup double in his first season in English football after leaving the post of Italy coach last summer.
A few weeks ago, the visit of Palace would have been viewed as a routine three points for the Blues.
However, they have shown significant signs of improvement recently with manager Sam Allardyce confident he has plugged the defensive holes that contributed to the team’s fall into the bottom three.
Four victories in the last six games -– each secured on the back of a clean sheet -– have moved Allardyce’s side four points and two places clear of the relegation zone.
New signings Mamadou Sakho and Luka Milivojevic have been credited with adding steel to the side.
Wilfried Zaha’s form has helped reignite the debate about the winger’s decision to reject England, despite winning two caps in friendly internationals, and commit himself to Ivory Coast.
Speaking after last Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, England coach Gareth Southgate appeared to suggest Zaha had imposed a timescale for his selection by England.
However, the comments drew a strong response in a statement that came through the player’s agent
Will Salthouse said: “Wilfried did not impose a timescale or set a date by which he had to be selected by England, there was no ‘disappearing egg timer’. The ‘private’ meeting with Mr Southgate was very amicable.
“It was Wilfried’s personal choice and it was his right as a senior player to accept the opportunity to represent his nation of birth and that of his family heritage.
“His ‘desire’ or ‘passion’ should never have been publicly questioned for making that decision.”
Former Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger has signed for Major League Soccer side the Chicago Fire from Premier League giants Manchester United, the English club confirmed on Tuesday.
Schweinsteiger, a key member of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning team, heads to the United States after an unhappy stint with Manchester United, where he has been frozen out by manager Jose Mourinho.
The 32-year-old, who scored 24 goals in 121 appearances for Germany, will join Chicago subject to a medical and a visa being obtained.
“I am sad to leave so many friends at Manchester United,” Schweinsteiger told the Manchester United website.
“But I am grateful to the club for allowing me the chance to take up the challenge at Chicago Fire.”
Schweinsteiger, who is married to now retired former women’s tennis world number one Ana Ivanovic, expressed his thanks to Mourinho and his team-mates.
“I have enjoyed working with the manager, the players and staff here and wish them all the best in the future,” he said.
“But I have to reserve special thanks to the United fans â- whose support has been a very special part of my time in Manchester.
“I was delighted to be part of the squad that won the FA Cup for them last season and will always remember their energy and their passion. Now is the right time for me to start a new chapter in Chicago and I am looking forward to it.”
United kept their tribute to one line with no comment from Mourinho.
“Everybody at United would like to wish Bastian the very best of luck in his new career in the United States,” the club said on its website.
On Monday Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said the signing of Schweinsteiger brought added responsibilities and expectations for the team’s performance.
“We’re adding someone who has won at every level, including the very highest levels, and has done so in a way that is consistent with our values,” Rodriguez was quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune.
“We as a club will now be forced to hold ourselves to a higher standard, an accountability level.
“Previously, I think we could satisfy ourselves with what is known domestically. Now we need to rise to a standard that is set more internationally.”
- ‘I’m convinced by the club’s vision’ -
Schweinsteiger played his entire club career with German giant Bayern Munich before joining Manchester United in 2015.
The Tribune cited an unidentified club source as saying that Schweinsteiger had signed a one-year deal worth $4.5 million, a salary that makes him one of the highest-paid players in the MLS.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always sought opportunities where I hoped to make a positive impact and to help make something great,” Schweinsteiger said in a statement quoted by the Tribune.
“My move to Chicago Fire is no different. Through my conversations with Nelson and (head coach Veljko Paunovic), I’m convinced by the club’s vision and philosophy and I want to help them with this project.”
Paunovic said the seeds of Schweinsteiger’s move had been sown by a lunch with the German star in Manchester last year.
“The conversation was so spontaneous, so natural and so inspiring for both sides,” Paunovic said.
“At one point it became a very personal conversation. I think that also helped for both sides to understand how we can help each other and how much value we can get from this for both sides.”
The Chicago team has endured a mixed start to the new MLS season, taking four points from their opening two games before suffering a 4-0 thumping by expansion side Atlanta last weekend.
Chicago’s lone success in the MLS Cup came in 1998 and for the past four seasons the team has failed to reach the playoffs.
Manchester City face a charge of failing to control their players by the Football Association for their surrounding the referee Michael Oliver when he awarded a penalty in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool on Sunday.
Oliver, the same referee who was surrounded by Manchester United players in the fractious FA Cup quarter-final with Chelsea last week and resulted in the club being fined £20,000 (23,000 euros, $24,700), awarded a penalty to Liverpool when he judged Gael Clichy to have fouled Roberto Firmino in the 50th minute.
“It is alleged that in or around the 50th minute of the fixture, the club failed to ensure its players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion,” said an FA statement.
James Milner tucked away the penalty to give the visitors the lead but Sergio Aguero levelled with just over 20 minutes remaining to ensure City salvaged a point in the gripping match at Etihad Stadium.
Oliver booked both Clichy and his Spanish team-mate David Silva — who was the most forthright in protesting — after awarding the penalty.
City have until 1800GMT on Thursday to respond to the charge.
Jose Mourinho fears Manchester United’s bid to qualify for the Champions League will fail because of their inability to kill off inferior opponents at Old Trafford.
United had most of the possession and chances against struggling Bournemouth on Saturday, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s penalty miss forced them to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Mourinho’s side have dropped home points against a number of sides below them in the table this season, with Stoke, Burnley and Hull all picking up draws when second best.
The United manager believes if his team had been more ruthless, they could even be challenging Chelsea for the title, but instead they are three points adrift of the top four.
“I don’t speak about the Manchester City match at home that we lost, because everybody knows what happens, the penalty (we should have had) and the red card (that should have been shown) to (goalkeeper Claudio) Bravo,” Mourinho said.
“But if you look at the points we lost at home, all the other matches we drew. If you accumulate those points, you are talking another 10 or 12.
“Then you are not just talking about top four, but top two or maybe even top one. There are matches to play, points to win and points to lose, but the reality is that we are losing too many points at home.”
The match was dominated by three flash-points just before half-time, first when Tyrone Mings escaped punishment for stamping on Ibrahimovic’s head, then when the United striker elbowed the Bournemouth defender in the face.
Referee Kevin Friend did not penalise either player, but did then send off Bournemouth captain Andrew Surman for a second bookable offence as he pushed over Ibrahimovic in the aftermath of the elbow incident.
Friend than also sent Bournemouth assistant manager Jason Tindall to the stand for making his protests too forcefully at half-time.
That all came after Josh King’s penalty had cancelled out Marcos Rojo’s first league goal for United, and before Ibrahimovic’s second-half spot-kick was saved by Artur Boruc.
Mourinho refused to criticise Friend or Mings, saying: “Zlatan is a big man, who has had too many years in football, like me. We are not the generation who goes to the media and complains.
“We are from that generation of street football and football for big guys. What happens, happens.”
Asked about the confrontation between Ibrahimovic and Mings, Mourinho said: “I don’t comment. I comment on the football, I comment on the game, I comment on the big decisions of the game.
“I think Kevin Friend was very good, the penalty against Phil Jones was a clear penalty, the penalty against Adam Smith was a clear penalty so the two big decisions of the game were good.
“The assistant referees were also good so for me good performance by the referee.”
Tindall took on post-match media duties because Eddie Howe was suffering with illness, although the Bournemouth manager was well enough to stand on the touchline during the game.
“Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to see any of the decisions back again,” Tindall said.
“The only thing I did see was the first yellow card for Surman, which I did think was very harsh.
“My players felt it was an elbow by Ibrahimovic. I am sure there was some kind of communication with the officials which ended up with Andrew being sent off.
“I got sent to the stands. I let my frustrations get the better of me at half-time but that was for the reason of Surman getting his first yellow card, which I thought was harsh.”
The anguished tone in Kasper Schmeichel’s voice told the story of the turmoil gripping Leicester as the Premier League champions slumped into a relegation crisis that triggered Claudio Ranieri’s brutal sacking on Thursday.
“We’re the reigning champions and quite frankly it’s been terrible. It’s been embarrassing,” the Leicester goalkeeper told a television reporter after a dismal 3-0 defeat at home to Manchester United on February 5.
“It’s time for every single one of us, right from the top to the bottom of this club, to stand up and be counted because if we don’t, we’re going to end up getting relegated.”
A year on from a stunning 3-1 win at Manchester City that sent them five points clear at the league summit, the loss to United left Ranieri’s men a solitary point above the relegation zone.
Leicester’s Thai owners felt compelled to issue a vote of confidence in Ranieri, but the team remained in dire trouble after an even more damaging 2-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Swansea days later and the beleaguered Italian was about to pay the price.
Reports emerged that Ranieri was unable to quell squad unrest over his tactics and selection decisions, with the former Chelsea boss forced to deny claims his players were unhappy he had banned chicken burgers from the training ground canteen.
A 1-0 loss at third tier Millwall in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday, in which his lethargic side were out-fought by 10 men for much of the second half, was another huge blow to Ranieri’s credibility.
His team had lost their past five league matches and were the only side in the top four English divisions without a league goal in 2017.
The final straw came in Sevilla, where Leicester were beaten 2-1 in a Champions League last 16 first leg clash that the Spanish side could easily have won by a far greater margin.
Ranieri had only signed a new contract in August, but by the time Leicester arrived home, he was a dead man walking.
Only 292 days after Leicester’s title triumph climaxed with the trophy presentation amid fireworks and a fanfare from opera singer Andrea Bocelli, Ranieri discovered his time was up.
It was a stunningly abrupt end to Ranieri’s reign and many had sympathy for the genial coach’s demise.
“After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad,” Leicester legend Gary Lineker said.
But money talks loudest in the Premier League and the risk of losing over £150 million in television and commercial revenue if Leicester were relegated was too much for vice chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha to stomach with only 13 games remaining.
Leicester’s woes were embodied by the woeful form of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, the rough-cut attacking stars whose goals and assists catapulted the Foxes to the title.
N’Golo Kante, Leicester’s other stand-out player last season, was the only departure during the close season and the club have failed to plug the hole created by his move to current leaders Chelsea.
Injury has hampered Nampalys Mendy since he signed from Nice and with Daniel Amartey an unconvincing stop-gap, Leicester splashed out £15 million ($18.7 million, 17.4 million euros) to sign Wilfred Ndidi last month.
Leicester lost head of recruitment Steve Walsh to Everton after last season’s triumph and their transfer activity since has been patchy.
Ahmed Musa has not convinced, Mendy has barely played, Ron-Robert Zieler has looked a less than capable deputy for Schmeichel and Luis Hernandez lasted just half a season before being sold to Malaga.
Ranieri stuck with a tried and tested 4-4-2 system throughout last season, but the Italian’s attempts to broaden his players’ horizons this term produced some confused performances.
Just nine months after the dizzy climax to their 5,000-1 title triumph, Leicester now face the prospect of becoming England’s first defending champions to be relegated since Manchester City in 1938.
Former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini and ex-Chelsea boss Avram Grant are reportedly among the contenders to replace Ranieri.
Survival will be the new man’s only mission this season, but whoever comes in has little time to stop Leicester’s rags to riches rise coming to a depressing conclusion.
Manchester United’s record goalscorer Wayne Rooney returned to training on Tuesday having missed the last four matches with a muscular injury.
The 31-year-old forward — who became United’s all-time goalscorer passing Bobby Charlton’s tally of 249 when he scored against Stoke on January 21 — took part in the squad’s last session before they fly to France for Wednesday’s Europa League last 32 second leg clash with St Etienne.
United — who will be without suspended midfielder Ander Herrera and the injured defender Phil Jones — won the first leg 3-0 part of a four match winning streak coinciding with Rooney’s absence.
Rooney — whom United manager Jose Mourinho said would not be sold despite reported interest from China as the club chases three Cups — trained in front of the media in a group also comprising Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Chelsea extended their lead atop the Premier League to 10 points on Sunday as the team they seem destined to succeed as champions, Leicester City, sank to yet another defeat.
Bidding to go 12 points clear, Chelsea had to settle for a point after home debutant Robbie Brady’s arcing 24th-minute free-kick earned Burnley a deserved 1-1 draw at Turf Moor.
While the title beckons for Chelsea, it is receding deeper into memory for Leicester, who were left one point and one place above the relegation zone by a 2-0 defeat at Swansea City.
Leicester became the first English champions to lose five successive games since Chelseain 1956 and the first team to go six games without scoring at the start of the year since Stoke City in 1985.
Leicester’s owners gave manager Claudio Ranieri a vote of confidence after last weekend’s 3-0 loss to Manchester United, but the post-game rallying cry issued by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel had little effect.
Swansea overcame the loss of former Leicester loanee Nathan Dyer to an early ankle injury to score twice in the latter stages of the first half at the Liberty Stadium.
Centre-back Alfie Mawson broke the deadlock in the 36th minute with an emphatic volley after Federico Fernandez had nodded Robert Huth’s clearing header back into the penalty area.
Swedish left-back Martin Olsson landed a hammer blow in first-half stoppage time when he hared onto Gylfi Sigurdsson’s first-time pass to rifle a shot past Schmeichel at his near post.
Ranieri made a double change at half-time, sending on Ben Chilwell and Islam Slimani, but the closest they came to establishing a foothold was a shot from the latter that was blocked by Lukasz Fabianski.
They pulled four points clear of danger and now have a full two weeks to prepare for their trip to leaders Chelsea.
Chelsea continue to sit pretty at the top of the pile, although their advantage will be eroded to eight points if Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City win at Bournemouth on Monday.
Antonio Conte’s side took a seventh-minute lead at Turf Moor when Victor Moses slipped Pedro in to steer a low shot past Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton.
But Burnley levelled through £13 million ($16.2 million, 15.3 million euros) record signing Brady’s fine free-kick and managed to prevent Chelsea from registering a single shot on target in the second half.
“We must be disappointed at the point because I think this type of game we could win,” said Chelsea manager Conte.
“We know there is a long way (to the end of the season). It is important to work and play this type of game and fight.”
Burnley manager Sean Dyche, whose side have won 29 of their 30 points at home, said: “It was a strong performance against a top, top side.
“I want us to be awkward to play against and be productive and we showed that.”
Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus aims to extend his dazzling start to life in the Premier League with another inspired display at Bournemouth on Monday.
Pep Guardiola’s team dropped out of the Champions League qualification places after losing four of the nine top-flight matches they played during December and January.
Three successive wins across two competitions have brightened the mood however, with Jesus making significant contributions in each match.
The Brazil striker, whose move from Palmeiras was completed during the mid-season transfer window, has scored three times in two Premier League starts, and got both goals as Swansea were defeated 2-1 at Eastlands last Sunday.
In the last few days, team-mates Fernandinho and Yaya Toure have both warned against getting too carried away with the 19-year-old’s excellent start, yet some pundits have asked if this might be the beginning of the end for Sergio Aguero at City.
Aguero has made only brief substitute appearances in each of the club’s last two matches, and suggested after the Swansea match that he was unsure about his future, although City moved swiftly to indicate that they had no plans to sell a striker who is under contract until 2020.
It has been a difficult season for the Argentina international, who has missed seven City matches through suspension, had missed four penalties for club and country by the middle of October.
Aguero has also lost his starting place in the national team of late too and may have to settle for a place on the bench at Bournemouth.
With City in fifth place, behind fourth placed Liverpool on goal difference, Guardiola has other selection issues to consider.
Claudio Bravo, the first choice, has not played well in recent weeks and was dropped after a 2-2 draw at home to Tottenham on January 21.
Willy Caballero, the back-up, has played in the three matches since, all of which City have won.
Despite those selection dilemmas, Guardiola is more content with the way his team are playing now than a month ago, when a 4-0 defeat at Everton prompted him to declare City were out of the Premier League title race.
Nonetheless, the manager respects a Bournemouth side who have beaten Liverpool this season – and should have beaten Arsenal, instead drawing 3-3 after being three goals up.
“In the last two years, it is outstanding what Bournemouth have done,” Guardiola said.
“They are so aggressive. They are an honest team.
“They play for the spectators in that they want to do something. They are fast guys to use the counter attack.
“I know what happened against Liverpool and Arsenal, the big teams. It will be tough.”
Bournemouth are comfortably placed in 14th, six points clear of the relegation places.
But Eddie Howe’s side are yet to taste victory in 2017 however and know they risk being dragged downwards if that trend persists.
The Cherries will look to Jack Wilshere, the on-loan Arsenal midfielder, for inspiration against City.
Wilshere joined Bournemouth for regular football after a succession of injury-hit seasons with the Gunners and inevitably speculation has begun about a permanent switch.
“We would love that to happen,” Howe said. “I can’t rate Jack any higher as a footballer or a person, and how he’s come into the team and what he has delivered for us.
“But there has been no discussion with Arsenal. As I see it Jack is on loan for the season, then we’ll look at it – and Jack will look at it – from that point.”
Alexis Sanchez struck twice as Arsenal returned to winning ways with a contentious and hard-fought 2-0 Premier League win over Hull City on Saturday.
The Gunners had lost their last two games coming into this contest against the relegation-threatened Tigers and had drifted out of the title race as a result.
They were by no means back to their best, but with a Champions League tie at Bayern Munich to come on Wednesday, manager Arsene Wenger will be pleased to have chalked up a timely victory.
Sanchez opened the scoring on 34 minutes with a goal that was allowed to stand despite the ball going in off his right hand.
He confirmed the three points with an injury-time penalty — his 17th goal of the campaign — after Sam Clucas had been sent off for clearing Lucas Perez’s strike off the line with his arm.
Hull threatened on occasion, but failed to get a positive result to lift them out of the bottom three, while Arsenal stay in the top four and provisionally close to within nine points of leaders Chelsea.
Some Arsenal fans decided to stay away in protest at what they deem as another failing Arsenal title bid.
But one man taking his seat in the stands at the Emirates Stadium was the under-fire Wenger, who served the last game of his four-match touchline ban.
His side seemed nervy at the back in the opening exchanges and Liverpool loanee Lazar Markovic broke into their box all too easily, but Oumar Niasse was unable to make contact with the Serbian’s cross.
Niasse tested Petr Cech moments later as he got onto the end of Kamil Grosicki’s smart cross to head towards goal, forcing the Arsenal goalkeeper to tip his effort behind.
The hosts then passed up two glorious opportunities to take the lead, with Hector Bellerin lashing wide when well-placed and Sanchez pulling his own effort wide of the mark from the centre of goal.
Hull’s defences were finally breached 10 minutes before the break and even then, the goal came in controversial circumstances.
After Kieran Gibbs’s shot was scrambled off the line by Andy Robertson, Sanchez followed in with a shot that struck Hull goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic before rebounding into the net off the Chilean’s hand.
Despite protestations from the Hull players, the goal was given after assistant Jake Collin appeared to have a discussion with referee Mark Clattenburg over the incident.
Arsenal survived an injury scare to Francis Coquelin early in the second half before Cech once again saved from Niasse.
Theo Walcott was then cautioned for squaring up to Harry McGuire, with England colleague Gibbs lucky to only see yellow moments later for barging over Markovic as he ran through on goal.
Alex Iwobi shot over after a neat exchange of passes with Ozil before Walcott fluffed his lines as he searched for his 100th goal in Arsenal colours.
Niasse sent a header into the side-netting as Hull looked to ruin another weekend for Arsenal, who had Sanchez booked for simulation late on.
Wenger looked to his bench in an attempt to build on his side’s slender lead, with both Danny Welbeck and Lucas coming on with 10 minutes remaining.
Hull manager Marco Silva, who has now faced Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal since arriving at the KCOM Stadium, saw his own substitute Adama Diomande head a corner over.
The game was sewn up in injury time after Perez saw his header blocked on the line by Clucas, who was trudging down the tunnel after being dismissed by Clattenburg as Sanchez tucked away the penalty to seal the win.
Juan Mata and Anthony Martial helped Manchester United extend their brilliant Premier League form as they outclassed Watford in a comfortable 2-0 victory at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Jose Mourinho may have a reputation as a defensive manager, but that accusation could not be made during this contest as United were wonderfully entertaining from start to finish.
With an attack containing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitayran and both goalscorers, United had class to spare and Walter Mazzarri’s Watford had no real answers.
Mourinho will be particularly pleased with the return to form of Martial, a player who has blown hot and cold recently following speculation about his future.
United’s impressive league form has seen them go unbeaten since their humiliating 4-0 reverse at leaders Chelsea on October 23.
They now trail fourth-place Manchester City by just a point ahead of their derby rivals’ trip to Bournemouth on Monday.
Watford arrived in Manchester confident, however, after consecutive wins over Arsenal and Burnley.
United had the best of the opening moments, but clear-cut chances were a rarity early on. That was to change.
Antonio Valencia’s deflected cross fell to Ibrahimovic 12 yards out after 60 seconds, but he mishit his volley, while a jinking run from Martial had Watford worried until his shot deflected wide.
Watford were clearly up for the fight as Jose Holebas and M’Baye Niang targeted Valencia on United’s right flank and repeatedly ran through on David de Gea’s goal, but could not make it count.
After 17 minutes, Paul Pogba nearly opened the scoring with a fine effort from 25 yards that Heurelho Gomes managed to brilliantly claw away at full stretch.
United slowly turned up the tempo and had three brilliant opportunities as Watford began to sit back, a tactic that can prove fatal at Old Trafford.
Firstly Ibrahimovic volleyed over following a fine ball from Pogba before the Frenchman almost scored himself, volleying Valencia’s low cross goalwards, only for Gomes to produce another smart save.
The best opportunity, though, fell to Mkhitaryan, who blasted over from Mata’s intelligent pass, much to Mourinho’s dismay.
It felt like Watford’s resistance had to break and so it proved.
With Mourinho imploring the home crowd to chant more loudly in support of his side, Gomes produced a stunning close-range block from Ibrahimovic before Mata broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute.
Martial ran Watford ragged down the left and his pinpoint pass gave Mata an easy tap-in from four yards out for his ninth goal of the season.
Watford somehow reached half-time just a goal down, but Mourinho’s men continued where they had left off after the interval as a Martial effort just went wide of the far post 60 seconds into the second half.
Martial did a little better on the hour, grabbing his side’s second goal as United twisted the knife.
In the blink of an eye, Ibrahimovic fed Martial near the halfway line and he ran through on goal, took his time and then beat Gomes at his near post through a thicket of defenders.
After the goal Watford actually improved as they chased the match and Daryl Janmaat should have halved the deficit with 20 minutes to go, only to blast wastefully over from 12 yards out.
It summed up Watford’s afternoon as United closed up at the back and ran down the clock with ease.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho expects Zlatan Ibrahimovic to remain at Old Trafford next season despite speculation linking the Swedish striker with one last big-money transfer, he said on Friday.
Ibrahimovic, 35, has been a revelation in his first season in England, scoring 20 goals, and is expected to trigger the option of extending his contract by a year.
Napoli and clubs in China and the United States have been linked with the former Paris Saint-Germain striker in recent days, but Mourinho is confident he will remain in United red next season.
“I’m totally convinced he is going to stay,” Mourinho told reporters at United’s training base west of Manchester.
“He came with the intention to stay two years, but in the minds of everyone the first year is going better than every expectation.
“He knows we are going to try again to improve next season and try to share with him in a fantastic way probably the last year of his career at the highest level, so I’m convinced that he’s staying.
“He’s adapted to the club, to the situation. I don’t see any problem with his family. I gave him the possibility of a day off to go to Sweden. He doesn’t want (it). So I’m totally convinced he is going to stay.”
The United manager also joked about executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward’s use of the word “churn” during a conference call with investors to discuss the club’s latest financial results on Thursday.
Woodward said he was expecting to see less “churn” — turnover of first-team players — in the close season and Mourinho was in complete agreement with the approach outlined by his superior.
“First of all, yesterday I had to ask a friend about ‘churn’ because I had no idea. It’s a new word for my vocabulary,” Mourinho smiled.
“You have to learn every time you can and I thank Ed for that word because I didn’t have an idea.
“He’s completely right. Of course we speak about it. Of course we speak about what next and we know that we have a squad that like every squad needs changes.
“But we know also that our squad has potential, our squad has good players, many of them in the best age.”
He added: “We prefer to bring two, three or four players, players that feel an idea, a football we try to play, that can improve our squad.
“We are not interested in signing six or seven or selling six or seven. We are not going to play this game.
“We are stable, so we think our market in the summer will be soft, will be natural. Some players to leave, some players to come, but in a very natural way, so I think the word Ed used was a good one.”
While rivals such as Manchester City are expected to make significant moves in the next transfer window, Mourinho says he intends to keep his squad largely as it is.
“You work with the players and you know the players better. You only know the players really when you work with them,” he said.
“Sometimes you get disappointed because you expect more and even in relation to this everything is balanced. I’m not negatively surprised with anyone.
“I didn’t have an incredible impact with some player, so everything is balanced and I think our summer will be quite small.”
United will be without centre-back Phil Jones for Saturday’s home game against Watford due to a foot injury.
But captain Wayne Rooney is back after missing last weekend’s 3-0 win at champions Leicester City due to illness and defender Marcos Rojo is also available despite picking up a knock in that game.
Gabriel Jesus scored two goals including an injury-time winner as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City recorded a dramatic 2-1 victory over struggling Swansea City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
The home side looked in complete control during a dominant first-half showing only to surrender an 81st-minute equaliser to Gylfi Sigurdsson.
The Iceland international capitalised on some poor defending, collecting Luciano Narsingh’s pass, switching the ball to his left foot and scoring with a brilliant low drive from just outside the area.
But deep in injury time David Silva’s right-wing cross found Jesus and after his initial header had been saved by Lukasz Fabianski, the 19-year-old Brazilian tapped the rebound into an open goal.
“Gabriel Jesus is strong, fast and has really good movement,” City manager Guardiola told the BBC.
“He has arrived really, really, well. We are happy to have him.
“Many times this season in last minute we have conceded. It is the first time we have won a game in the last minute.”
Jesus, a January arrival from Palmeiras, had required just 11 minutes of his full home debut to score the first of what City supporters hope will be many goals for them.
The goal was created by the excellence of Silva, who beat defender Federico Fernandez along the byline before pulling the ball back towards Raheem Sterling.
Martin Olsson managed to block the England forward on the six-yard line, but Jesus reacted like lightning, pouncing on the loose ball and making no mistake with a close-range volley.
City’s first-half dominance was complete and Willy Caballero, continuing to deputise for the dropped Claudio Bravo in the home goal, had not one moment of concern.
The afternoon might have been put beyond the grasp of Swansea, showing signs of improvement under new manager Paul Clement, had referee Mike Dean judged that Alfie Mawson had fouled Jesus in the area on seven minutes.
Shortly after the goal, Yaya Toure almost doubled the lead from a 25-yard free-kick that was heading into the top left-hand corner until Fabianski made a superb diving save.
From Silva’s resulting corner, Toure should have made better contact with an unmarked shot that passed harmlessly wide.
Kevin De Bruyne then fired into the side-netting and Toure’s 18-yard shot was smothered, at the second attempt, by Fabianski.
A long Silva pass played Sterling in on goal just before the interval, although the City forward fell while rounding Fabianski and was harshly booked for simulation for his trouble.
However, City’s supporters would have been forgiven for wondering if their failure to score more than one goal would come back to haunt them as Swansea made an improved start to the second half.
Sigurdsson threatened to equalise in the 49th minute with a magnificently struck free-kick that was kept out by a combination of the leaping Caballero’s right glove and his right-hand post.
Leroy Sane sped down the other end in response and delivered a low cross which hit the foot of Fabianski’s post.
But the longer City went without adding a second goal, the more the anxiety grew at the Etihad, especially when Mawson headed just wide from Sigurdsson’s corner.
The Swansea defender was pressed into action at the other end when he blocked a dangerous low cross from Sterling.
It came at the expense of a corner from which De Bruyne picked out Aleksandar Kolarov, whose header flew harmlessly wide.
Mawson again came to his team’s rescue after 72 minutes, producing a well-timed block to stop a Silva shot, set up by Jesus’s superb flick, which had looked destined for the back of the visitors’ net.
“We deserved more,” said Clement. “If we can build on that we will have some more wins not far away.”
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s masterclass left Leicester fighting for their Premier League survival as Manchester United cruised to a 3-0 victory over the troubled champions on Sunday.
Jose Mourinho’s side condemned dismal Leicester to a fourth successive league defeat thanks in large part to Mkhitaryan’s dynamic contribution at the King Power Stadium.
The Armenian playmaker opened the scoring with a cool solo strike just before half-time and then teed up Juan Mata for United’s third goal after Zlatan Ibrahimovic had doubled the lead.
United’s first win in four league games extended their unbeaten run to 15 and lifted them to within two points of fourth-placed Arsenal in the race to qualify for the Champions League.
“I think we played like we normally play. We played well and tried to win,” Mourinho said.
“We are still in the same position but we are closer to the others so we keep fighting.”
Just nine months after their fairytale title triumph, Leicester are firmly embroiled in a battle to avoid relegation after winning only one of their last nine league games.
Claudio Ranieri’s team are a shadow of the relentless unit that ground opponents into submission last term and have yet to score a league goal in 2017.
They sit one point above the relegation zone and face a crucial clash at fellow strugglers Swansea next weekend.
“Last season everything was right and the players got confidence, now they are anxious. We have to stay together and keep fighting,” Ranieri said.
Given both sides’ recent struggles, it was little surprise that anxiety was the prevailing emotion in an error-strewn opening most notable for Jamie Vardy’s tetchy response to a touchline collision with Eric Bailly.
Riyad Mahrez, such a poised and inspired figure last season, summed up the malaise gripping Leicester when the Algeria winger responded to an early sight of goal with a woeful strike that flew well wide.
Marcus Rashford hadn’t scored in the league since netting against Leicester in September and the United striker, unmarked 10 yards from goal, squandered a good opportunity to end that barren run when he blazed over from Mkhitaryan’s pinpoint cross.
Mata could consider himself fortunate to escape with only a yellow card after the United midfielder lunged into a crude challenge on Vardy.
Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba combined to work the ball into Rashford and the youngster’s quickly-taken low strike carried enough power to force a fine save by Schmeichel.
It was a warning Leicester failed to heed and United took the lead in the 42nd minute when Mkhitaryan punished a mistake from Robert Huth.
When Chris Smalling won a header in midfield, there should have been no danger but Huth made a rash and unsuccessful attempt to win the ball in the centre circle, giving Mkhitaryan space to nudge it past the defender and race clear of the Leicester defence before firing beyond Schmeichel.
Just 88 seconds later, Leicester shot themselves in the foot again when Antonio Valencia was allowed to run unchecked down the right before crossing towards Ibrahimovic.
Despite three Leicester defenders surrounding Ibrahimovic, the trio were all flat-footed as the United forward pounced to slot home his 20th goal of the season.
Ranieri sent on Demarai Gray and Andy King at half-time, but Leicester’s gloom deepened when Mata put the result beyond doubt in the 49th minute.
Mkhitaryan was tormenting Leicester with his clever passing and when the United playmaker deftly clipped the ball to Mata, the Spaniard was played onside by Morgan and guided his shot past Schmeichel from close-range.
Rashford and Mata couldn’t take chances to rub salt into Leicester’s wounds, but the damage had already been done.
Ranieri will hope it doesn’t prove fatal.
Eden Hazard’s brilliant goal in Chelsea’s 3-1 victory over Arsenal further buried the title hopes of their Premier League rivals with even angry Arsene Wenger admitting that his London foes are a class act.
Antonio Conte’s side shattered Arsenal’s hopes while Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool hit a new low in a 2-0 defeat at Hull in Saturday’s games.
Belgian winger Hazard picked up the ball in his own half and waltzed past four opposing players to shoot home at Stamford Bridge after Marcos Alonso opened the scoring with a contentious effort, clattering into Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin before heading home.
Cesc Fabregas rubbed salt into Arsenal’s wounds in the 85th minute when the former Gunners midfielder chipped into the empty net after a woeful miskick from ex-Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Olivier Giroud got a consolation but third placed Arsenal trail Chelsea by 12 points with 14 games remaining.
Chelsea have 16 wins in their last 18 league games, prompting Conte to hail the triumph as a significant moment in the title race.
“I consider Arsenal one of the six teams that can fight for the title. To put them 12 points behind is very important for us,” Conte said.
Wenger fumed over Alonso’s opener, saying: “It was 100 percent a foul. It was even dangerous play.”
But he joined Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola in saying Chelsea should have the title wrapped up.
“They look at the moment in full confidence, powerful, strong. They don’t concede goals. It’s for them to lose it.”
Second placed Tottenham are Chelsea’s closest challengers and their 1-0 victory against Middlesbrough meant they are still nine points behind.
When Son Heung-Min was fouled by Bernardo in the 58th minute at White Hart Lane, Tottenham striker Harry Kane stepped up to convert the penalty for his 16th goal of the season.
It was a first win in three league games for Mauricio Pochettino’s team, who are unbeaten in their last nine.
“When you don’t kill the game you leave it open. In the last second you can concede, that’s the Premier League. Thankfully it didn’t and we’re happy,” Pochettino said.
At the KCOM Stadium, Liverpool fell behind in the 44th minute when Alfred N’Diaye took advantage of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet’s poor handling to bag a debut goal.
Klopp’s side were finished off in the 84th minute when on-loan Everton striker Oumar Niasse raced clear to boost third bottom Hull’s survival bid.
“Obviously that was not good enough. We gave both goals away easily and the overall performance was not like it should be,” Klopp said.
“It makes no sense for us to play like this. We need to wake up, that was not acceptable.”
Liverpool have won only once in their last 10 games in all competitions and will be knocked out of the top four if Manchester City avoid defeat against Swansea on Sunday.
Sunderland stunned former boss Sam Allardyce with an first half goal rush to demolish fellow strugglers Crystal Palace 4-0 at Selhurst Park.
Lamine Kone, signed by Palace chief Allardyce when he was in charge at Sunderland, swept home after Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey dropped a 10th minute free-kick.
The Black Cats were two up in the 43rd minute through Didier Ndong’s first goal for the club.
Jermain Defoe put the result beyond doubt with two goals in first half stoppage-time. One furious Palace fan ran onto the pitch to confront defender Damien Delaney.
Sunderland remain bottom of the table but they are level on points with Palace, who dropped to 19th place.
Romelu Lukaku scored four times in Everton’s 6-3 victory against Bournemouth at Goodison Park.
Ronald Koeman’s side were ahead after just 31 seconds as Belgian forward Lukaku started his goal spree.
Everton doubled their advantage through James McCarthy in the 23rd minute and Lukaku notched his second six minutes later.
Bournemouth’s Josh King set up a tense finale as he netted in the 59th and 70th minutes.
Lukaku struck again in the 83rd and 84th minutes to cap his memorable afternoon before Harry Arter’s 90th minute reply and Ross Barkley’s sixth for Everton.
West Ham bounced back from their mauling by Manchester City with a 3-1 win at Southampton thanks to goals from Andy Carroll, Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble.
Watford consigned 10-man Burnley to a seventh successive away league defeat with a 2-1 success at Vicarage Road.
West Bromwich Albion beat Stoke 1-0 thanks to James Morrison’s sixth minute goal.
Manchester United’s players must give Zlatan Ibrahimovic more support if they are to make a serious challenge for Champions League qualification, manager Jose Mourinho said on Friday.
Ibrahimovic has scored 14 of United’s 33 Premier League goals this season and many of them have been decisive, earning United no fewer than 15 points.
No other player has scored more than four league goals and they were all off-target on Wednesday as relegation-threatened Hull City secured a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.
“In almost every team the striker is the top scorer,” Mourinho told a press conference at United’s training base west of Manchester prior to Sunday’s trip to Leicester City.
“Unless you have another player with a special feeling to score goals coming from another position, or you have another player scoring six, seven or eight goals from penalties. That is normal to happen.
“But I understand what you are saying. We attack so much and with so many players and so many players have the freedom in our dynamic to reach scoring positions.
“I have to agree with you that we don’t score enough goals and some of our players from these attacking, creative positions, they could — they should — score more goals.
“When you see the number of goals we score, there is not a true relation between our attacking production and the number of players we put in attacking positions and the number of goals we score.”
United are unbeaten in 14 league games as they prepare for the trip to the King Power Stadium, but have drawn seven of those, including each of the last three.
They have not shifted from sixth place since the start of November and currently lie four points off the Champions League qualification spots.
Meanwhile, Mourinho has dismissed the idea of chasing what he calls “impossible” signings during the close season.
Reports in France claim United have agreed terms with Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann, having brought his France team-mate Paul Pogba to Old Trafford last year.
But Mourinho said: “I think to be speaking about the transfer window when it’s February 3 makes no sense at all.
“The transfer window opens in the summer and until the summer, I think I have nothing to tell you.
“Of course, I know what I want. I’ve worked with my players for seven months or so. I know them better now than six or seven months ago.
“I think what we need I am very realistic (about). I know what the impossible targets are.
“I don’t like my club to participate in impossible deals. It is a waste of time. It is a gift to these impossible players and to their agents to have a club like Manchester United interested in them.
“It just helps them to improve their situation, but it does not help us at all so I am very realistic. I am very objective.
“My board knows what I think our needs are and from now until the summer, I just focus on my players, our competitions, my club, our fans and try to get the (best) possible results.”
Centre-back Phil Jones is likely to miss the trip to Leicester with a bruised foot, but Eric Bailly is available after returning from Africa Cup of Nations duty with the Ivory Coast.
United have recalled back-up goalkeeper Dean Henderson from a loan spell at Grimsby Town to provide cover after Joel Pereira, the club’s third-choice keeper, picked up a knee injury.