Mon, 07 Mar 2005


Chelsea back in command as Man U stumbles

Associated Press, London

Chelsea opened up an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League on Saturday after beating struggling Norwich 3-1.

The Blues -- fresh from winning the League Cup last Sunday -- increased its lead by two points when title rival Manchester United was held to a 0-0 draw by Crystal Palace.

The Red Devils couldn't break the deadlock at Selhurst Park, despite having an extra man for 26 minutes when Crystal Palace's Vassilis Lakis was sent off for two yellow cards.

Ruud van Nistelrooy had United's best chances, testing Palace goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly with a header in the first half and a 20- meter drive after the break. He sent the ball over the bar from close range with five minutes remaining.

"It's a bad result for us," Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said. "When you're going for the championship, you have to win these games. We haven't done that today so we've given ourselves a real mountain to climb. We've given a great advantage to Chelsea."

Joe Cole, Mateja Kezman and Ricardo Carvalho all scored for Chelsea. Leon McKenzie leveled for Norwich in the 64th - the first league goal conceded by Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech since October and for 1,025 minutes.

Thierry Henry scored a hat trick to lead Arsenal over Portsmouth 3-0.

Chelsea has 68 points, followed by Man United with 63 and Arsenal with 61.

Southampton closed in on 17th-place Crystal Palace with its win. Palace has 26 points, followed by Southampton with 24, Norwich with 20 and West Bromwich Albion with 18.

Laurent Robert scored to help Newcastle beat Liverpool 1-0 and extend its winning streak to five matches. Steven Gerrard missed a late chance to level for Liverpool.

It was Liverpool's third consecutive defeat. Last week it lost the League Cup final to Chelsea in extra time.

Saturday's loss dented Liverpool's chances of challenging Everton for fourth place and the final Champions League spot. Liverpool has 43 points -- eight behind fourth-place Everton, which plays Blackburn on Sunday.

"It was a game without opportunities and it was only on the free kick that we conceded the goal," Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said.

Henry, who missed Arsenal's FA Cup fifth round replay over Southampton with an Achilles injury, scored in the 39th, 53rd and 85th minutes.

Arsenal's defensive worries deepened when Pascal Cygan limped off halfway through the first half. Arsenal faces Bayern Munich on Tuesday in the Champions League trailing 3-1 from the first leg and is already without Sol Campbell.

The injury toll showed as seven of Arsenal's starting lineup was aged 23 or under.

"It was a very solid team performance with a great focus, great team spirit and resilience," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "For such a young side, they showed great maturity. It promises us a good future."