Eto’o hat-trick sees United sink deeperAgence France-Presse . London
Manchester United’s Premier League title defence died another death on Sunday as Samuel Eto’o’s hat-trick earned Chelsea a 3-1 win that left the champions 14 points off the pace.
Eto’o’s treble, his first in English football, gave manager Jose Mourinho his 100th Premier League victory, while United, who replied through Javier Hernandez, slumped to their seventh loss of the campaign and saw captain Nemanja Vidic sent off in stoppage time.
As well as the gulf that separates them from leaders Arsenal, United are also six points below the Champions League places, further jeopardising their chances of securing the consolation prize of a top-four finish.
With hopes of success via the league fading further, Wednesday’s League Cup semi-final second leg against Sunderland, when United will look to overturn a 2-1 deficit, now assumes even greater importance.
It was a fifth successive league win for Chelsea, meanwhile, who returned to within two points of Arsenal and a point of second-place Manchester City.
With Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie both still injured, United fielded Adnan Januzaj in support of Danny Welbeck, but they quickly found a route through the Chelsea defence on a brisk afternoon at Stamford Bridge.
A neat one-two between Ashley Young and Welbeck presented Young with a clear sight of goal in the second minute, but his effort was parried by Petr Cech.
It was an enterprising start, and Chelsea found themselves on the back foot until Eto’o broke the deadlock in the 17th minute with a bolt from the blue.
Gathering the ball wide on the right, the Cameroon star tricked his way inside Phil Jones and then dispatched a left-foot shot that flicked off Michael Carrick’s toes and looped over David de Gea.
With David Luiz providing a muscular presence in front of the Chelsea back four, occasionally to the consternation of the United bench, the hosts began to assert greater control, but the visitors remained a threat.
Patrice Evra fired into the side-netting after blocking an attempted pass from Oscar, while Welbeck could only shovel a shot straight at Cech from Januzaj’s driven left-wing cross.
It was to prove a costly missed opportunity.
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