Swansea frustrate Man United Chelsea hit Villa for 8

SWANSEA, United Kingdom, Dec 23, (AFP): Manchester United’s lead over Manchester City is down to four points from six after the Premier Leage leaders were held 1-1 at Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium on Sunday.
Patrice Evra struck with a first-half header to put United on their way but a Michu equaliser before half-time was enough to give Swansea a richly deserved point.
Having seen neighbours City cut their lead at the top of the league to three points with Saturday’s last-gasp 1-0 victory over Reading, United were keen to restore their healthy advantage going into the busy festive period.
United winger Antonio Valancia had an early cross blocked by Ben Davies but it was Swansea who looked the more likely in the early stages, with Nathan Dyer putting in a dangerous cross and Michu spurning a sight of goal.
The Spaniard, who now has 13 goals in the league this season, fired high and wide under pressure from Nemanja Vidic, but the threat was clear.
Wayne Routledge tested David de Gea with a shot on the turn from 18 yards before Michu was caught offside from a delightful through-ball by Routledge.


The danger for United was always there and though Swansea came into the game on the back of successive defeats against Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur, they were not short on confidence.
Clearly smarting from a sluggish start, United might have taken the lead in the 14th minute when Michel Vorm, back in the Swansea goal after a two-month injury lay-off, beat away Wayne Rooney’s 25-yard strike.
Two minutes later, Evra rose to head home Robin van Persie’s near-post corner.
It was the signal for United to step on the gas and try to kill off the game before Swansea could respond.
Van Persie and Valencia were the main source of Swansea’s problems, though Rooney almost latched onto Ashley Young’s crisp centre after van Persie had torn a hole in the home midfield.
Then, as United dropped their guard, Swansea struck.
Routledge sent in Jonathan de Guzman and though his shot was kept out by De Gea, Michu arrived with perfect timing to make it 13 for the season. Swansea were good value for the goal and though the sides turned around level, De Guzman and Michu both had opportunities to send the hosts in at half-time with a lead. United were strangely careless in the second half, with Rooney, on too many occasions to remember, giving away the ball in positions of promise.
His free-kick on the hour, after Chico Flores was booked for a poorly timed tackle, was straight at Vorm, as was Dyer’s 30-yard shot at the opposite end a minute later.
The introduction of Javier Hernandez gave United a little more bite, with Rooney dropping back into the visitors’ four-man midfield.


From that juncture, United began to dominate possession, with Swansea needing all of their resolve to keep the leaders at bay. Van Persie, who was booked with Ashley Williams after the pair had a spat on the edge of the 18-yard box, struck the crossbar with a volley from Rooney’s centre and Vorm pulled off a smart save from Hernandez.
Michael Carrick then forced a great save from Vorm and Swansea twice had to produce desperate blocks as United turned the screw.
Swansea, however, held on to claim a first ever Premier League point against United.
In London, Rafael Benitez took a big step in his efforts to win over doubting Chelsea fans by overseeing a stunning 8-0 victory over Aston Villa that moved the Spaniard’s side back up to third spot.
Fernando Torres kick-started the win with his seventh goal in six appearances, while Frank Lampard marked his 500th Premier League start with a goal that made him the club’s leading scorer in the top flight.
Ramires scored twice, with David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic, Eden Hazard and Oscar also on target in a victory that emphatically drew a line under the club’s recent slump. There was much for Benitez to be pleased about, particularly the continuing good form of Torres.
But for Aston Villa, this result — their heaviest top-flight defeat — will come as a crushing blow after the improvement they have shown in recent weeks.
One of the first questions asked of Benitez when he took charge at Stamford Bridge was whether he could revive Torres.


The interim manager insisted he could and the striker’s recent strike rate suggests Benitez has been good to his word, as the sharpness of Torres’s third-minute header demonstrated.
Picked out by Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross from deep, the Spain international connected with a powerful header, twisting his body to direct the ball beyond Brad Guzan from 16 yards out.
It was the perfect start for the Blues, who came into the game on the back of an impressive 5-1 League Cup quarter-final victory at Leeds United. Villa are also in the last four of that competition and Paul Lambert’s side arrived in west London unbeaten in their previous six games.
But any confidence they have built up during that impressive run was shredded during a first half when Chelsea easily assumed complete control of the game.
Chelsea thought they should have been given the chance to double their lead in the 22nd minute when Torres appeared to be held by Nathan Baker, but referee Phil Dowd waved away appeals for a penalty.
They soon had their second, however, when Luiz assumed responsibility for a free-kick 25 yards out, curling the ball up, over the wall and inside Guzan’s right-hand post in the 29th minute.
Lambert had understandably kept faith with the side that won 3-1 at Liverpool last weekend and it was, with an average age of just under 24, the youngest team Villa had ever fielded in the Premier League.
Their inexperience showed as they collapsed under the weight of the Chelsea pressure, falling further behind when Ivanovic made it three in the 34th minute.
A Chelsea corner was met by Gary Cahill, whose deflected shot was beaten away by Guzan, but only into the path of Ivanovic, who headed home unchallenged.
Villa’s priority was to save themselves from humiliation in the second period, but it quickly became clear that that task would prove beyond them.


Juan Mata produced an outstanding save from Guzan five minutes after the restart, before Torres had a header ruled out for offside.
It was left to Lampard to add the fourth, the Blues’ stand-in skipper marking his big day in style with a powerful low drive from 25 yards.
Chelsea scored their fifth in the 75th minute when Ramires collected a pass from fellow substitute Lucas Piazon and stroked the ball through Guzan’s legs.
Four minutes later, Chris Herd fouled Oscar and the Brazilian picked himself off the floor to convert the penalty.
Hazard then exchanged passes with Piazon before creating space inside the area and beating Guzan with a vicious rising drive in the 83rd minute.
Guzan saved excellently from Piazon’s penalty after the Brazilian had been fouled by Ciaran Clark, but that was only a temporary reprieve before Ramires struck Chelsea’s eighth.

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