Chelsea took a huge step towards winning the title with a victory over third placed Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. The only goal of the game came from the in-form Eden Hazard, capping off a week were he was nominated for player of the season. That’s opened up the possibility of the league leaders confirming the title at Leicester before the end of the month.
Once again the Blues had to start the game without either Diego Costa or Loic Remy, with 37-year-old Didier Drogba starting up front. There was also a brave choice in midfield, as Jose Mourinho put centre half Kurt Zouma in beside Nemanja Matic in the defensive midfield position. Oscar, Cesc Fabregas and Hazard were in the advanced midfield spots, with Willian benched due to illness.
United made a flying start to the match, and they troubled the home side early on. Luke Shaw outpaced Branislav Ivanovic to run on to a through ball, and he cut the ball back to an unmarked Wayne Rooney at the edge of the box. His shot went just wide, but as it nestled in the outside of the net the Red Devils’ away support and goalkeeper celebrated after thinking they had taken the lead.
There was controversy after a Chelsea breakaway, as David De Gea looked to have handled the ball outside the box. Ivanovic’s header fell to Fabregas, who had two United players and Hazard ahead of him. Fabregas played the ball high towards the Belgian, and De Gea came racing out of his box. Replays showed he deflected the ball away with his arm outside the box, but the referee waved away the Blues’ protests.
United couldn’t make the most of their early dominance and they were punished just minutes before half time. Falcao gave the ball away after a battle with John Terry, and it fell to Fabregas on the left hand side. He fed Oscar, who back-heeled it into the path of Hazard, and he ran clear and slotted the ball in between the legs of De Gea. After the clash between Falcao and Terry, they exchanged heated words again moments later.
The second half started off quite cagey, but it was no coincidence that United got back into the game as Marouane Fellaini started to shine. He has been a key player in their recent turn of form, and he was more effective after the break, which caused trouble for the hosts’ defence. Louis van Gaal obviously watched the game at QPR last week, as at times they recreated the quick pressing game that gave Chelsea so many problems at Loftus Road.
In the end, there was no repeat of United’s late equaliser at Old Trafford early in the season. Chelsea held on to take the three points, and eliminate United completely from the title race. Victories in their next two games will confirm the title, starting with a huge game against Arsenal next Sunday at the Emirates.
LCN Man of the Match: Eden Hazard