United move into the driver's seat

Manchester United crush Liverpool to set up a five point gap at the top of the EPL.

    The three musketeers: Manchester United's goal
    scorers Nani, right, Cristiano Ronaldo, centre, 
    and  Wes Brown [AFP]

    Manchester United has increased its lead in the English Premier League to five points, while Chelsea emerged as the defending champion's main rival in this season's title chase.

    United beat Liverpool 3-0 to improve to 73 points, while Chelsea took over second place with 68 points by rallying to beat Arsenal 2-1 in Sunday’s matches between the top four clubs.

    The Gunners are third with 67 points, and Liverpool is fourth with 59.

    "It's going to go right to the end,'' said Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, whose team hosts Arsenal on April 13 and plays at Chelsea on April 26.

    For the Red Devils, Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 34th goal of the season, and Wes Brown and Nani added the others for United at Old Trafford.

    Liverpool played the entire second half with 10 men after a moment of madness from Javier Mascherano saw the midfielder sent off after getting a second yellow card.
    In London Didier Drogba scored for Chelsea in the 73rd and 82nd minutes after Bacary Sagna had given Arsenal the lead with his first goal for the team in the 59th.

    "I think they give the belief we can still be in the race against Manchester United,'' Drogba said.

    "Arsenal are not dead even though they lost this game. Although it is going to be difficult for them and their confidence will be hit.''

    Brown headed in United's opening goal in the 34th minute after beating Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina rushed to a cross from Wayne Rooney.

    Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, left, cuts
    a lonely figure as he leaves [AFP]
    Brain explosion

    In the 44th, Mascherano got his second yellow card for arguing with referee Steve Bennett after United defender Rio Ferdinand fouled Liverpool forward Fernando Torres.

    Moments earlier, Torres had been booked for dissent.

    A clearly angry Mascherano initially refused to leave the field, with members of the Liverpool coaching staff attempting to calm him down before manager Rafa Benitez eventually persuaded him off.

    "Clearly he didn't say anything,'' Benitez said in his defence, remarkably with a straight face.

    "Ryan Babel was close to him, he didn't say anything. He was asking what happened. In these big games, to lose a player in this situation ... it's strange because Javier Mascherano is a good professional and was really surprised with the sending-off.

    "In a big game like this between the top four, a sending-off for asking is just a surprise.''

    Mascherano was shown his first yellow in the 10th minute for a foul on Paul Scholes.

    Ronaldo scored his 25th Premier League goal in the 79th minute, just moments after Reina pushed another of his attempts off the crossbar.

    The Portugal winger headed in his goal from a corner by Nani.

    United made it 3-0 in the 81st when Nani, who played a one-two with Rooney, sent a shot into the corner.

    Liverpool has yet to beat United in the league under Benitez after seven attempts and has lost its last three games against the Red Devils. It last won at Old Trafford in April 2004.

    Match winner: Chelsea's Didier Drogba [AFP]
    Drogba brace leads Chelsea challenge

    In the later match Sagna scored by getting ahead of Salomon Kalou and heading in a corner from Cesc Fabregas at the near post.

    Drogba leveled with a powerful strike, soon after Chelsea manager Avram Grant sent on former Gunner Nicolas Anelka and Julian Belletti for Claude Makelele and Michael Ballack.

    Anelka set up Drogba to score his second goal, and the Ivory Coast striker was denied a hat trick soon after when Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia made a diving save.

    "It is not so easy to win the title but we are in with a chance,'' Grant said.

    "We are still chasing but we are now closer to the top.''

    Arsenal was forced to take off Sagna because of an injury in the 72nd and sent on teenage striker Theo Walcott for Van Persie three minutes later.

    Nicklas Bendtner became Arsenal's third striker in the 89th, but Arsenal could not break through a revitalised Chelsea, which has now gone 79 league matches without losing at home.

    Arsenal, which had been in first place until March 15, is winless in its last five matches.

    "We will fight until the end and we are not worried about the future but are disappointed now obviously," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

    "Today we were unlucky and I thought we played well. We were 1-0 up and were unlucky with their first goal which I thought was really offside.

    "It is disappointing because we gave everything but now the priority has to be the next game."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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