LONDON: Chelsea strengthened their hold on a Premier League top-four place yesterday by beating London rivals Tottenham 2-1 but Sheffield United missed the chance to boost their case for Champions League football next season. Liverpool’s staggering 22-point lead over second-placed Manchester City means the title race is effectively over but the sides below them are scrambling to qualify for Europe’s top club competition.
Frank Lampard’s fourth-placed Chelsea went into their match against Jose Mourinho’s Spurs at Stamford Bridge without a win in their past four Premier League matches and just one point clear of Spurs. Fringe players Olivier Giroud and Marcos Alonso were recalled by Lampard. Both rewarded their manager’s confidence by scoring in the home win. The result means Lampard has completed a league double against his former manager this season after their 2-0 victory at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in December.
But the match was overshadowed by a VAR controversy, with officials ruling that Tottenham midfielder Giovani Lo Celso did not deserve to be sent off for a “leg breaker” stamp on Cesar Azpilicueta. World Cup winner Giroud put Chelsea ahead in the 15th minute when he reacted quickest to finish beyond Hugo Lloris after Ross Barkley had struck a post. Chelsea doubled their advantage three minutes into the second half, Alonso drilling in a first-time shot after being set up by Barkley.
Alonso’s free-kick hit the bar before Antonio Rudiger deflected Erik Lamela’s shot into his own net in the 89th minute. Lampard criticised VAR after Lo Celso was allowed to stay on the pitch. “I hate to call for red cards but that is a leg breaker,” he said. “Everybody knew they made a mistake. I was just waiting for the red card to be shown.” Adding to Lampard’s frustration, television broadcaster BT Sport reported that VAR officials had told them Lo Celso should have been sent off.
Tottenham boss Mourinho unsurprisingly side-stepped questions about the tackle, preferring to talk about previous VAR decisions that he felt went against his team. “I hope the noise is exactly the same as when VAR killed us,” he said. “There should have been a red card for Watford and Liverpool against us. Why didn’t they say they made a mistake then?” As it stands, a fifth-placed finish would guarantee Champions League football next season because Manchester City, in second, have been banned from Europe’s elite competition for two years.
City hope to have their appeal against the ban heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport before the start of next season. Sheffield United took the lead at home to struggling Brighton through Enda Stevens but Neal Maupay equalised on the half-hour. The result leaves Sheffield United in sixth place on 40 points, level with Tottenham. Burnley won for the fourth time in five Premier League matches to lift themselves to eighth in the table. Shane Long put Southampton ahead early against relegation-threatened Aston Villa and Stuart Armstrong doubled their lead deep into stoppage time.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men are 10 points clear of the drop zone. Crystal Palace, a point behind, beat Newcastle 1-0 to ease their own worries. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City take on third-placed Leicester at the King Power Stadium in the evening kick-off. Manchester United, Wolves, Arsenal and Everton, who all harbour ambitions of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, are all in action today. Runaway league leaders Liverpool host struggling West Ham tomorrow. – AFP