Chelsea moved to within sight of Premier League Title glory with a 1-0 victory over third-placed Manchester United in a dour tactical battle. A victory over nearest rivals Arsenal would leave them needing only three points from their remaining five matches to claim their first title since 2010.
The match was billed as a clash between Jose Mourinho and his former mentor, Louis van Gaal, with United having put together an impressive run of form in recent weeks. A convincing 4-2 win over champions and arch-rivals City had raised expectations ahead of this game. Chelsea’s recent form has not been convincing and the absence of leading scorer Diego Costa raised further questions.
Loic Remy, bought as back-up to Costa, was also out injured leaving veteran Didier Drogba to lead the attack. The onus was really on United to attack if they wanted to undermine Chelsea’s dominance in the title race. Mourinho, tactical astute as ever, employed Kurt Zouma in midfield to nullify the threat posed by Marouane Fellaini with the Blues content to soak up United pressure.
Apart from an early chance squandered by Wayne Rooney, there was no threat to either goalkeeper until a quick interchange between Oscar and Hazard gave Chelsea the breakthrough. It was the eighteenth goal of the season for Hazard, far and away Chelsea’s best player this season. He could have added a second when striking the woodwork from close range in the second half. Chelsea were content to hold on to their lead and were not unduly troubled to do so. Herrera was booked for simulation in the dying seconds after going tumbling on the edge of the box.
The victory was a vindication of Mourinho’s tactics and strangely reminiscent of the three previous clashes with the Manchester clubs this season. The Blues took the lead in all three but were pegged back and held to a draw. There was to be no late reprieve for United this time who must now concentrate on securing a top-four place and Champions League qualification.
Even a defeat at Arsenal next weekend would do little to threaten Chelsea’s hold on the title. The Blues would still be seven points clear with five games remaining. Following their trip to the Emirates Stadium, Chelsea face Leicester (away) and Crystal Palace at home. They should be boosted by the return of Remy against Arsenal while Costa should also be back before the end of the season.
The Gunners remained on course to retain the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Reading to book their place in the final. Their remaining league fixtures include a trip to Old Trafford on May 17th. The Premiership title is surely heading to Stamford Bridge.