Manchester United take stranglehold on English Premier League

March 24th, 2008 - 12:38 pm ICT by admin  

London, March 24 (DPA) Manchester United took a stranglehold on the race to win the English Premier League title after they beat 10-man Liverpool 3-0 at Old Trafford while Chelsea emerged as their biggest challengers after they beat Arsenal 2-1 to leapfrog into second place. United took full advantage of the first-half sending-off of Javier Mascherano to beat Liverpool 3-0 while Didier Drogba was the hero for Chelsea as they came from behind to claim all three points against Arsenal in the major matches played Sunday.

The champions are now five points clear of Chelsea, who are one point better off than Arsenal. Liverpool are eight points behind Arsenal in fourth, with a two-point cushion from Everton.

United striker Wayne Rooney, who was one of the best players on the day, said: “We know it’s in our hands now - we have to try and win as many games as possible and stay top of the league. We’ve got a good mix in the dressing room and we know what we have to do between now and the end of the season.”

Liverpool went into the match at Old Trafford on a run of seven straight wins and matched United in the early stages, with Steven Gerrard firing just over, while Ronaldo side-footed against the post having been wrongly ruled offside.

Mascherano was booked for a late challenge on Paul Scholes early on and the Argentine was repeatedly haranguing referee Steve Bennett afterwards.

Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina had trouble kicking in the first half on what was a bobbly pitch, and his nerves seemed to be affected as he was late in coming for a Rooney cross on 34 minutes and Brown beat him to it, with the ball going into the net off the defender’s back.

The tension was building and eventually all boiled over when Fernando Torres was booked for dissent, and Mascherano, after running to Bennett and seemingly asking “what’s happening?”, was given a second yellow card and sent off.

That changed the match, but Liverpool regrouped and though United dominated possession with the extra man, they struggled to find a way through the Liverpool defence, with Reina, who was at fault for the first goal, making some excellent saves to prevent Ronaldo, in particular, from increasing United’s lead.

Liverpool enjoyed a decent spell but the match was over on 79 minutes when Reina again failed to claim a corner and Ronaldo headed into the empty net.

Substitute Nani then made it three a minute later after fine play from Rooney, who was superb throughout, with the Portuguese lashing the ball into the corner.

Benitez said he sympathised with Mascherano.

“It’s clear Mascherano made a mistake but he was only asking the referee a question. Ryan Babel was there and saw that he was just asking. Maybe he does not know the referee.

“He knows he made a mistake but he was so surprised. He is a very good professional who has played a lot of international games all around the world, and he couldn’t understand why he was sent off for just asking,” Benitez said.

After a tight first half, Arsenal took the lead at Stamford Bridge after 58 minutes when Bacary Sagna headed home a Cesc Fabregas corner, sending the ball beyond Carlo Cudicini.

Ashley Cole headed over from a Joe Cole cross and with 20 minutes to go, Chelsea manager Avram Grant then took off Michael Ballack, bringing on Nicolas Anelka, prompting sections of the crowd to chant “You don’t know what you’re doing”.

But Grant had the last laugh as a long ball - from which two Chelsea forwards looked offside - broke kindly for Drogba and he slotted it into the corner for the equaliser.

Anelka pulled the ball wide five minutes later but the Frenchman made amends when he flicked on a free kick into the path of Drogba, whose shot was too strong for Manuel Almunia in the Arsenal goal.

Drogba said he hoped his two goals could inspire Chelsea to pip United for the title.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was incensed with referee Mark Clattenburg for allowing Chelsea’s first goal. “It was offside,” Wenger said. “They put us under a lot of pressure with long balls. The title race is not over but it will be difficult.”

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