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Samuel Eto'o scored a hat-trick as Chelsea beat Manchester United 3-1 to reduce the gap to Premier League leaders Arsenal to two points.
The Cameroon forward struck twice in the first half and was on target again just after the break at Stamford Bridge to take his tally to eight goals for the season as third-placed Chelsea stretched their winning run to six matches in all competitions. Javier Hernandez pulled a goal back for United after coming off the bench, but It was not a good afternoon for his manager David Moyes, who will be without his captain Nemanja Vidic for three matches after the defender was sent off in injury time for a foul on Eden Hazard.
The defeat was Moyes's side first away from home in the league for almost four months, as their chances of retaining their title were made more remote. The champions are 14 points behind Arsenal and face a battle to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, sitting six points adrift of fourth-placed Liverpool.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho celebrated his 100th Barclays Premier League win in only 142 matches, requiring fewer matches than any other manager to achieve the landmark.
His defender Branislav Ivanovic returned from injury ahead of schedule at the expense of Ashley Cole, while Eto'o was preferred to Fernando Torres. New signing Nemanja Matic started on the bench alongside fit-again midfielder Frank Lampard. Ashley Young and Phil Jones were back in the United starting line-up as Shinji Kagawa and Chris Smalling dropped to the bench.
United made an encouraging start, but found themselves behind after 16 minutes when Eto'o conjured up a goal out of nothing. There appeared to be no danger when the striker picked up a loose ball, but he cut in from the right and jinked past Jones before unleashing a shot from the edge of the penalty area that deflected off Michael Carrick and looped into the far corner of the net.
United responded well to going behind and the lively Adnan Januzaj created a great chance for Danny Welbeck when he picked out the striker in the area, but the England forward’s shot was saved by Petr Cech. That miss proved costly as Gary Cahill picked out Eto'o a minute before half-time and the forward finished from six yards out.
Eto'o punished some loose United defending just three minutes into the second half to complete his treble. He was first to react when a header from an unmarked Cahill was well saved by De Gea and tucked home the rebound.
Welbeck's frustrating afternoon continued when he headed wide from six yards out, but substitute Hernandez pulled a goal back when he turned in Jones's shot from inside the six yard box 12 minutes from time. It was too little, too late for Moyes's side and Matic came on to make his second debut for Chelsea five minutes from time after rejoining from Benfica as they saw out the victory with ease.
United’s misery was complete when Vidic was shown a red card for a foul on Hazard.
After the match, Mourinho said that Fernando Torres, a second-half substitute, would be out for "weeks" with a knee injury.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: “More important than anything is the three points today. Of course it is nice and 100 victories in the Premier League is obviously one more fantastic thing for my career, but the most important thing is really to win the match.
"It was a very difficult match, a match where it is too hard for them to be losing 2-0 at half-time. They started better than us, they were stronger than us in the beginning and we scored the first goal without being in control of the game and the second is too hard for them.
"In the second half we started better and had control of the game for long periods before maybe fatigue or being comfortable with the advantage. They had some spirit and initiative and with their goal the game was open but we deserved three points. It is three important points for us because it now opens a gap between us and Man United and Liverpool and we are still in contact with Arsenal and Manchester City. Man United had a good game first-half and losing like that is not easy, but I imagine they will be better and better and become the big team they are."
"I had the creative players and I wanted someone with a bit more quality around the box. Fernando is more about space and pace. Man United were trying to be compact and we needed a player like Samuel. He works well for us.”
Manchester United manager David Moyes: "We got a bit unlucky with the first goal. It took a bit of a deflection and went over the top, but the other two came from set-pieces, which is our own fault. There was terrible defending in the first goal and just as bad in the [other] one. We didn't score our goals today and Chelsea did.
“It's a difficult task but perseverance, we'll keep doing what's right. We've done a lot of good things today, we've got players to come back and this is a project that I know I'm going to improve as it goes along. There will be changes as we go along on the journey and I'm looking forward to it, but it's a massive challenge.
"I hoped I'd be in a far better position than this, but I'm not so the challenge is there for me and I think, if you're a football person, it's a great one to have. What we won't do is throw the towel in [on the title] until we can't get there. The job is to try and finish first and we'll keep trying to do that."
|29 Jan 2014||v West Ham (H)|
|03 Feb 2014||v Man City (A)|
|08 Feb 2014||v Newcastle (H)|
|11 Feb 2014||v West Brom (A)|
|22 Feb 2014||v Everton (H)|
|01 Mar 2014||v Fulham (A)|