Chelsea defeated Manchester United 2-1 on Saturday to pull level on points in the race for the Premiership title.
The enforced absence of Frank Lampard meant Chelsea lined up with a more defensive central midfield combination than would otherwise have featured – both Jon Obi Mikel and Michael Essien featured alongside Michael Ballack, and Chelsea comfortably stifled United’s attack as a result.
Chelsea were dominant and took the lead through Michael Ballack, before a defensive error gifted United an equaliser, with Wayne Rooney slotting home superbly before withdrawing from the match due to injury. Michael Ballack held his nerve to convert a late penalty after a Michael Carrick handball.
United, whose looked tired and lacklustre for much of the match, produced a late fight back, and were twice denied by goal-line clearances, Ashley Cole and substitute Andrei Shevchenko hacking the ball off the line in a frantic last few minutes.
The two sides are now level on points, but United’s superior goal difference means their destiny remains very much in their own hands: if they win their two remaining games, they will be Champions again.
Everton were held to a 2-2 draw by Aston Villa in an eventful encounter at Goodison Park. Everton twice took the lead through goals from Phil Neville and Joseph Yobo, but onbith occasions they were pegged-back by Martin O’Neil’s free-scoring side. Villa’s in-form forwards Gabriel Agbonlahor and John Carew scored for the visitors.
The point leaves Everton in pole position to secure fifth place and UEFA Cup football, especially given Manchester City’s surprise 3-2 home defeat at the hands of relegation-threatened Fulham. Inspired by midfield dynamo Jimmy Bullard, the Cottagers staged a remarkable second-half comeback at Eastlands, with Diomansey Kamara scoring a 90th-minute winner to breath new life into their struggle against relegation.
With two games left, Fulham are a mere three points behind relegation rivals Bolton and Reading, both of whom failed to win this weekend. Reading picked up a point in a goalless draw at Wigan, while Bolton earned a creditable point in a 1-1 draw against Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
Birmingham City will be disappointed to emerge from their home match with Liverpool with only a point after having taken a commanding lead with goals from Mikael Forsell and Sebastian Larsson, but goals from Peter Crouch and Yossi Benayoun earned the Reds a point. The result means Birmingham remain in the relegation places.
One team who will not be going down this season are big-spending Sunderland. Roy Keane’s men beat Middlesbrough 3-2 thanks to a late headed goal by Daryl Murphy. The result means Sunderland, currently in 13th place, are now mathematically safe from relegation.
By Houman Barekat