Chelsea boosted its chances of a top- four finish in soccer’s Premier League with a 1-0 win at champion Manchester United. Liverpool and Everton drew 0-0 in the Merseyside derby.
Juan Mata’s deflected shot in the 87th minute gave Chelsea the win yesterday against the Red Devils, who last month secured their record-extending 20th English league title. United’s Rafael was red-carded in the 89th minute for kicking David Luiz.
The victory put third-place Chelsea one point ahead of Arsenal having played a game fewer than the Gunners. The top four teams qualify for the Champions League, and Chelsea hosts fifth-place Tottenham in two days.
“It was a massive win,” Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez said in comments on his team’s website. “We knew we had to get six or seven points to guarantee finishing in the top four. When the goal came it was a massive step forward for us.”
United, which leads the standings with 85 points followed by Manchester City on 72, was the less energetic team at Old Trafford as Chelsea chased a place in Europe’s elite club competition.
Antonio Valencia and Tom Cleverley shot over the crossbar for United and Robin van Persie put the ball wide of goal. Chelsea’s Oscar had his shot pushed on to a post by goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, and Demba Ba and Victor Moses failed to convert opportunities.
United’s Wayne Rooney complained that Ramires fouled him in the build-up to the goal. As play continued, Oscar passed to Mata, whose left-foot shot went in off Phil Jones.
“We have three more games,” Mata said in a televised interview. “We deserve to play in the Champions League next season. If we play together like today we can do it.”
Chelsea has already reached the final of this season’s Europa League, where it faces Benfica. A win against Tottenham in two days would all but guarantee the Blues a top-four finish because of their goal-difference superiority over Spurs, which it leads by three points.
United manager Alex Ferguson bemoaned his team’s flat performance.
“We took our foot off the pedal in a big way, there was no edge to the game,” Ferguson said. “Chelsea deserved to win.”
Everton continued its sequence of not winning at Anfield in the league since 1999, though prevented a home victory in Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher’s last derby before retiring.
“I’m slightly disappointed,” Carragher said. “It’s a fair result, there weren’t too many chances at either end.”
The visiting team had a second-half effort from Sylvain Distin disallowed because of a foul on goalkeeper Jose Reina. Everton’s Marouane Fellaini earlier volleyed Leighton Baines’s free kick wide.
The result leaves seventh-place Liverpool with 55 points, five behind Everton.
Two days ago, Arsenal and Tottenham had 1-0 wins over Queens Park Rangers and Southampton, respectively. Wigan won 3-2 at West Brom and Reading had a 4-2 victory at Fulham. Norwich lost 2-1 at home to Aston Villa, and the games between Swansea and Manchester City, and West Ham and Newcastle, were scoreless.
Sunderland, which is one place above the three-team relegation spots, hosts Stoke tonight and can move five points clear of the drop zone with a victory.
QPR and Reading are already certain to be demoted to the second-tier Championship. Last-place QPR has 25 points, Reading 28, Wigan 35 and Sunderland 37.
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