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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

Manchester United moves closer to clinching English Premier League championship

The Red Devils defeat Chelsea, 2-1, and move six points ahead of the second-place Blues with two games left. A tie next weekend against Blackburn Rovers would wrap up the title for Manchester United.

May 08, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer
  • Manchester United's (from left) Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez celebrate a goal during UEFA Champions League play last month.
Manchester United's (from left) Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney… (Christof Koepsel / Bongarts…)

It took Mexican striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez a mere 36 seconds on Sunday to turn English champion Chelsea's hopes of retaining its title into so much dust.

Hernandez's goal, curled past goalkeeper Petr Cech and into the lower left corner of the net, set Manchester United on its way to a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford that all but sealed the Premier League championship for Sir Alex Ferguson's team.

It was the former Chivas de Guadalajara forward's 20th goal in his debut season in Europe.

Nemanja Vidic's sharply headed goal off a Ryan Giggs cross after 23 minutes made certain of the victory, with Frank Lampard's second-half goal for Chelsea being of little consequence in a match in which the Blues were clearly second best.

At the final whistle, the Manchester United players, coaching staff and fans celebrated as if they already had clinched their 19th title, one more than the record they currently share with Liverpool.

Ferguson, in fact, even went so far as to make a couple of bows, with arms outstretched, to fans in the Old Trafford stadium's Stretford End.

The victory left Ferguson's team six points clear of second-place Chelsea with only two games remaining. Arsenal's challenge ended Sunday with a 3-1 loss to Stoke City. A tie next weekend on the road against Blackburn Rovers would wrap up the title for Manchester United.

"It's fantastic to be the most successful team in the country," Ferguson told Britain's Sky Sports network. "For the last 17 or 18 years it's been Arsenal and Chelsea as our nearest challengers, and the last few years it's been Chelsea. Arsenal made a great attempt this year, but them losing today has finalized it.

"We deserve the title and hopefully we'll get that point now."

Furious at defender David Luiz for failing to intercept the pass from Park Ji-Sung that allowed Hernandez to score in the opening minute, Chelsea Coach Carlos Ancelotti had calmed down a bit by the final whistle.

"We have to accept the defeat," he told Sky Sports. "Today, United were better and, in general this season, they were better than us. They deserve to win the title. They will win and we have to try to maintain second place."

Whether second place would be enough to cause Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to retain the Italian coach who led the club to a league and Cup double last season, is uncertain.

"I hope to stay, but it is not my decision," Ancelotti said Sunday.

Manchester United, meanwhile, can make it a doubly successful season if it defeats Barcelona in the May 28 final of the European Champions League at Wembley Stadium in London.

That would give it four European titles, still one fewer than Liverpool but creeping closer.

Barcelona will provide a far stiffer test than Chelsea, however. The Catalan club on Sunday shut out Espanyol, 2-0, on goals by Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique to move to within one point of securing its third consecutive Spanish league championship.

It will also be seeking its fourth European title on May 28.

Meanwhile, two of the other top European prizes already have been clinched.

On Saturday, AC Milan won the Italian Serie A title for the 18th time when it held AS Roma to a 0-0 tie in Rome. It was Milan's first league championship since 2004 and its first under Coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Rival Inter Milan had won the last five Serie A championships in a row.

On April 30, Borussia Dortmund won the German Bundesliga title for the first time since 2002 and for the seventh time overall. That led to Coach Juergen Klopp being doused with beer in the traditional German celebration.

Ferguson probably would prefer a good red wine when Manchester United eventually wins its championship.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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