Chelsea are two wins from glory


The clue that here was the decisive game was in the manic nature of the second half. Not on the pitch but on the touchline. Mourinho and his assistant Rui Faria were up and down with what was, even for them, an unusual intensity, waving players back with the most extravagant gestures when they lost the ball.

Hold on to this lead was the message and the celebrations can begin. Two more games, of course, have to be won and that includes a visit to Arsenal next week. But there can be little doubt as to the destination of the title after this result. The hard work of the winter has been done and spring is here.

Though Chelsea were worth their win on Saturday in that they had the outstanding player on the pitch in Eden Hazard, not all titles are won at a canter. Sometimes getting across the line is enough.

Chelsea were not in control of the game for long periods on Saturday and United might have grabbed a point, not least when Radamel Falcao hit the post in the 76th minute. And they were fortunate not to concede a penalty in the final minute of added time, when Ander Herrera trailed his leg into the clumsy challenge of Gary Cahill and received a yellow card for a dive.

But Chelsea were the team that looked close to a finished article rather than a work in progress, as Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United are at present. They are the team that find the decisive chances and take them. And they are the team that have paid down enough deposits earlier in the season to claim their title now.

Indeed, when Chelsea scored there was a majestic build up; the power of John Terry muscling Falcao off the ball; the poise of the impudent back heel from Oscar; and then the decisiveness of the run and finish from Hazard.

When Oscar’s delicious touch came into his path, Hazard set off with an intent that would not be denied. One touch, two touches, three touches he took and then drilled the ball through the legs of David de Gea, as though the duel between them to be crowned player of the year was some kind of personal feud.

He is in that kind of form, Hazard. He reminds you of Robert Pires when Arsenal were closing in on the title in 2002. It isn’t just that his speed terrorises or that his skill is above that of almost every player on the pitch. It is his state of mind that is so dangerous, that intuitive confidence great players possess.

For that 38th-minute goal was by no means the story of the first half. It had belonged to United in many respects, particularly to Herrera, who had dominated the midfield from the holding role that Michael Carrick would have occupied if not injured.

Kurt Zouma had been inserted into the Chelsea line up to curtail the threat of Marouane Fellaini but he could have no effect on the game. With Wayne Rooney playing his part, Luke Shaw looking back to his marauding best down the left and Ashley Young continuing his good run, United were simply one step ahead of Chelsea at every turn.

Rooney should have scored from one of Shaw’s run and cut-backs in the fourth minute. He curled his shot wide but so deceptive was the flutter of the net as the ball bounced off the stanchion, that De Gea was busy celebrating with the United fans.

Chris Smalling looked confident enough in midfield to venture out with the ball at times. His inexperienced partner Paddy McNair followed his lead and forced Thibaut Courtois into a sharp save, turning a long-range shot around for a corner. Only Hazard, with a quite delightful sliding pass for the Cesc Fabregas chance in the seventh minute, suggested Chelsea could match United.

Hazard continued his dominance at the start of the second half, his runs and speed unsettling United. Probably more pleasing for Mourinho than any of his touches though was the fact that he was tracking back to win the ball deep in his own half, before accelerating off on those unstoppable dribbles.

But Herrera, who had also had a fine first half, blotted his copy book, with a wayward pass in the 53rd minute. It was seized by Didier Drogba, the old warrior sprinting goalwards attempting to hold off Smalling, who made enough of a nuisance of himself to ensure that shot was deflected over De Gea.Hazard, of course, was on hand, tearing in at the far post but, on this occasion, he chose to over elaborate. Unable to break his stride for a simple finish, he instead flicked the ball and hit the post.

But United are a different proposition these days from the team that looked so limp and lame at the start of the season. They regained their grip on the game, Shaw troubling Branislav Ivanovic and McNair making incursions into the Chelsea half, one long-range shot forcing a save from Courtois.

Shaw then shot down the wing and crossed for Mata who forced a another save, while Rooney also went close. And in the 76th minute Shaw slid a ball in for Falcao who crashed the ball against the post. It meant Chelsea secured the points and with them perhaps the title.

Mail On Sunday

Original source: Chelsea are two wins from glory