Football Sport

EPL round 31: Chelsea’s Champions League hopes suffer huge blow

Written by Leanne Lu

Manchester United looks unstoppable in their quest for a record 20th Premier League title. The Red Devils beat Sunderland 1-0 at the Stadium of Light on Sunday thanks to Titus Bramble’s own goal with the win making Manchester United the first team to register 25 wins from the opening 30 matches of any Premier League season. The Black Cats’ poor display led to the sacking of their manager Martin O’Neill, with Italian Paolo di Canio – who quit League One club Swindon Town in February – immediately named as his replacement.

Manchester United march on towards the title

Manchester United march on towards the title

Manchester City is now 15 points adrift of United at the top of the Premier League, the margin rendering their 4-0 win over Newcastle United virtually meaningless. But just below them on the table, the competition for the remaining Champions League spots is growing stiffer. Chelsea boss and “Cup King” Rafa Benítez was cleared distracted by the looming FA Cup replay against Manchester United on Monday. He made seven changes to the team that beat West Ham a fortnight ago and watched on as his Blues suffered a 2-1 defeat to Southampton, slipping to fourth position as a result.

Chelsea's Champions League hopes suffered a huge blow after their defeat at Southampton

Chelsea’s Champions League hopes suffered a huge blow after their defeat at Southampton

Tottenham Hotspur regained third place by beating Swansea 2-1 at Liberty Stadium while fellow north London club Arsenal maintained their 100 per cent record against Reading with a comprehensive 4-1 win. The race for the final two Champions League spots looks to be a battle between Spurs, the Gunners and Chelsea with Everton an outside chance. The Gunners are the team with the best chance of moving up the ladder on the grounds that they only have the league to worry about, while Chelsea and Hotspur will be distracted by Europa League and FA cup games. The battle looks as if it will go down to the wire.

At the bottom end, Nigel Adkin’s Reading look doomed given they are now eight points adrift of safety with just seven games remaining. They can start preparing for life in the Championship next season. On the other hand, Southampton appear to have made the right decision in replacing Adkins with former Espanyol manager Mauricio Pochettino in January – the Saints are now sitting 12th in the league. Premier League clubs at the wrong end of the table have a history of changing managers in their desperation to stay in the top flight and in 2013 it is Adkins, Pochettino, di Canio and QPR’s Harry Redknapp that are the EPL’s firefighters with the financial futures of their clubs resting in their hands.