Manchester United took a huge step towards the title with a comfortable 4-1 home defeat of West Ham on Saturday lunchtime.
Having been something of a bogey side for United in recent years, the Hammers went into this fixture with relatively little to play for, and with a squad decimated by injuries to key players. The league leaders produced an attacking display and were three goals up within twenty-six minutes, courtesy of a brace from Cristiano Ronaldo and a long-range strike from Carlos Tevez. A spectacular over-head kick from Dean Ashton reduced the deficit, before Nani was sent off for a head butt on West Ham defender Lucas Neil. The visitors failed to take advantage of their numerical advantage, and a deflected effort from former Hammer Michael Carrick sealed a good win for United.
Goals from Michael Ballack and Florent Malouda gave Chelsea a 2-0 win at Newcastle United on Monday night. The top two are level on points going into the final round of matches next week, but United’s far superior goal difference means a win against Wigan will seal the title for the Old Trafford club.
Everton’s 1-0 defeat at Arsenal means the race for a UEFA Cup place will be decided on the final day of the season. Missing influential playmaker Mikel Arteta, the Toffees line up defensively against a experimental Arsenal line-up which featured youngsters Denilson, Bendtner and Song. A dour match was settled by Nicholas Bendtner’s 77th-minute header. This was Arsenal’s last home game of the season, and there were farewell appearances in front of the Emirates faithful for Brazilian midfielder Gilberto Silva and German goalkeeper Jens Lehman.
Fortunately for Everton, their main challengers for 5th place all fell to defeats this weekend. Manchester City were beaten by a solitary Fernando Torres goal to nil in an even contest at Anfield, while Aston Villa slipped to a surprise 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Wigan Athletic. Ecuadorean winger Antonio Valencia, rumoured to be a transfer target for Manchester United and Liverpool, scored both goals for Wigan, who have ended the season strongly. And Portsmouth were beaten 2-0 by Middlesbrough at the Riverside, in a result which guarantees Premiership safety for Gareth Southgate’s men.
A goal from El Hadj Diouf on his last appearance at the Reebok set Bolton on their way to a 2-0 win over Sunderland, a result which assures Bolton’s Premiership safety, barring an extremely unlikely set of results next week.
In the day’s biggest relegation battle, Fulham produced an energetic display to beat Birmingham City 2-0 at Craven Cottage, thanks to second half goals from Brian McBride and Erik Nevland. Roy Hodgson’s men have produced a minor miracle in recent weeks, and are now within touching distance of safety.
By contrast, Reading were lacklustre in a 1-0 home defeat by Tottenham. Robbie Keane scored the only goal of the game after sixteen minutes. Only goal difference separates Fulham in 17th from Reading in 18th. However, Fulham must travel to Portsmouth next week, while Reading have the apparently easier challenge of a visit to relegated Derby.
By Houman Barekat