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Manchester United’s Chris Smalling (center left), fights for the ball against Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony (center), during their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, on Jan 11. (AP)
Hazard, Torres send Chelsea top United stop rot

KINGSTON UPON HULL, United Kingdom, Jan 11, (AFP): Second-half goals from Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres gave Chelsea a 2-0 victory at Hull City on Saturday that fired the Blues to first place in the Premier League. Chelsea put in a classic Jose Mourinho performance, patiently wearing down their hosts before grabbing the breakthrough and killing off the game. Hull looked like they were coping with their illustrious visitors until a flash of brilliance from Hazard in the 56th minute gave Mourinho’s side the lead. Torres sealed the victory with three minutes left to mark his 200th Premier League appearance with a goal.

Hull were beaten 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on the opening day of the season, when the Tigers were blown away in the first 25 minutes by a rampant Chelsea performance. The opening exchanges at the KC Stadium were not quite a role reversal, but it looked like Steve Bruce’s team had learnt from their experience in August. The hosts were sharp and pressed Mourinho’s men into a string of sloppy mistakes, and they might have even taken the lead. Ahmed Elmohamady saw a dipping shot from 20 yards held by Petr Cech and the Chelsea goalkeeper had to push away Jack Livermore’s effort from similar distance after strong hold-up play by Yannick Sagbo.


Alex Bruce sent a free header over from a Tom Huddlestone corner, before another Chelsea error presented Hull with a golden chance. Livermore closed down John Terry and his blocked clearance fell kindly for Sagbo 12 yards out, but the Ivorian’s first-time shot flashed narrowly wide. Torres cut a lonely figure against Hull’s trio of centre-backs, but the attacking threat of Oscar, Willian and Hazard was clear as the visitors began to stir. Hull have kept six clean sheets at home this season, but they needed some excellent goalkeeping from Allan McGregor to prevent Chelsea going ahead 10 minutes before half-time when Hazard teed up Oscar.


The Brazil star timed his arrival in the box perfectly and smashed a shot goalwards from 10 yards, only for McGregor to pull off an unlikely point-blank save. The Scot was in action again on the stroke of half-time, when he pushed over David Luiz’s dipping free-kick from 35 yards after a dangerous tackle on the Brazilian by Livermore, which went unpunished. Another awkward free-kick from Luiz, this time from 25 yards, tested McGregor, who beat the ball away and was lucky that no Chelsea player could get to the loose ball. Hull might have felt that they were doing a good job of keeping Mourinho’s men at bay, but they were undone by a moment of magic 12 minutes into the second half. Luiz’s ball into Ashley Cole on the edge of the area was cleverly flicked to Hazard by the England defender.


Hazard feinted to shoot, jinked to the right, and drilled a low shot into the bottom-right corner of the net from the edge of the box for his 11th goal of the season in all competitions. Chelsea showed admirable discipline after taking the lead and Hull, perhaps drained by their first-half exertions, struggled to mount a meaningful attack until midway through the second half. It came when Gary Cahill’s handball gave the hosts a free-kick, which Huddlestone curled wide from the corner of the penalty area. Hull had Curtis Davies to thank for preventing a Chelsea second, when the captain stretched to block Oscar’s shot after Willian had found his compatriot with a low pass 15 yards from goal. Hull switched to a 4-4-2 system in a bid to get back into the game, but it left them vulnerable and Torres took full advantage with three minutes left. The Spaniard collected Willian’s pass and made light work of going past Bruce before drilling a shot beyond McGregor at the near post.


United 2, Swansea 0

In Manchester, normal service was resumed as Manchester United beat Swansea City 2-0 on Saturday to avoid losing three successive home games for the first time in over 50 years. The victory was a welcome one for manager David Moyes, but although it was United’s fifth win in six Premier League games, questions remain about their ability to revive their season sufficiently to challenge for the title. They lacked creativity for the opening 45 minutes, when Swansea had the bulk of the possession, but the Welsh club failed to deal with the threat from Adnan Januzaj, who was involved in both goals. Danny Welbeck scored their second one and has now hit the target six times in six games, while Antonio Valencia was also on target at the start of the second half. Until then, Swansea had coped capably with the threat from United, despite having to reshape their side after only 17 minutes when Chico Flores came on for the injured Jose Canas. Swansea, who dumped United out of the FA Cup last weekend, were already without several key players because of injuries, but they still created chances in the early stages.


A fifth-minute shot from Jonjo Shelvey was comfortably saved by United goalkeeper David De Gea, before a slick exchange of passes set up Wayne Routledge, whose poor first touch deprived him of a chance to shoot. Moyes’s team were slightly more incisive and could have gone ahead in the sixth minute when Nemanja Vidic hooked a shot over the crossbar after Swansea failed to deal with a corner. Januzaj was also inches away from giving United a 11th-minute lead when his 20-yard free-kick dipped over the wall, but struck the bar. Patrice Evra forced Swansea goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel to make a routine save in the 28th minute, but United were far from convincing as they were stifled for long periods by their opponents’ midfield. Within 30 minutes, there were already rumblings of discontent from supporters who have grown accustomed to witnessing United overcome teams such as Swansea, who had won only one of their previous seven league games.


Their mood was not improved by Welbeck’s failure to convert a 36th-minute chance that he dragged wide at the climax of their best move during a half in which Swansea enjoyed 66 percent of possession.
However, the atmosphere within Old Trafford was transformed after only a minute of the second half when Januzaj’s movement down the left flank created a a goal that the match — and United — desperately needed. He engineered space for a cross that reached Shinji Kagawa, whose header was saved by Tremmel before Valencia drove in the loose ball. It was the catalyst for an impressive spell by United, who stretched their lead in the 59th minute. Januzaj was again heavily involved when he won the ball in midfield and delivered a cross that was half-cleared to Patrice Evra. The full-back’s shot lacked power or accuracy, but Welbeck got a clever touch that turned it inside the right-hand post.


The traffic was now one-way in the direction of the Swansea goal. United’s earlier uncertainty had vanished and they should have added a third goal when Chris Smalling shot over the bar from only three yards out. Kagawa also wasted a glorious opportunity when he delayed his shot in the 76th minute and Swansea were able to clear, but it hardly mattered. The threat from the Welsh club proved to be minimal and, ultimately, this was a comfortable victory for United, who closed to within nine points of leaders Chelsea, their next opponents.

Everton 2, Norwich 0
In Liverpool, Everton maintained their impressive home form with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Norwich in the Premier League on Saturday. Goals from Gareth Barry and Kevin Mirallas were enough to see Roberto Martinez’s side surge back into the top four, while the defeat left the Canaries winless in six league matches. Everton were without star man Ross Barkley, whom Martinez said would be out for “a while” with a toe injury.


But it mattered little as the home side dominated possession in the first-half, Belgian striker Mirallas and Leighton Baines going close before Barry scored his 50th Premier league goal. Receiving the ball from Romelu Lukaku outside the box in the 23rd minute, Barry fired in a 20-yard scorcher into the top right corner. Mirallas was at the heart of everything and the Belgian got his rewards in the 58th minute with a sumptuous, curling free-kick past Norwich ‘keeper John Ruddy after Baines had been brought down. Norwich upped the tempo as time ran down, Nathan Redmond forcing Tim Howard into a 72nd minute save with his legs. Bradley Johnson then went close with two shots from outside the Everton box. Robert Snodgrass and Ricky van Wolfswinkel also had decent efforts, but Everton’s defence remained resolute. The Toffees’ home record makes for impressive reading, having lost only four times in their last 32 league matches.

 

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