Samuel Eto'o scored a hat-trick as Chelsea kept pressure on the Premier League leaders with a 3-1 victory at home to Manchester United on Sunday at Stamford Bridge.
The result kept Chelsea within two points of league leaders Arsenal, who won 2-0 at home to Fulham on Saturday. The Blues, who remained undefeated at Stamford Bridge under Jose Mourinho, are one point behind second-placed Manchester City, who defeated Cardiff City 4-2 on Saturday.
Manchester United remained seventh but are now six points behind fourth-placed Liverpool. Now 14 points behind Arsenal, United almost certainly will not retain their league title.
Eto'o, signed in the summer from Anzhi Makhachkala, scored in the 17th, 45th and 49th minutes as Chelsea overcame a strong start by Manchester United and took advantage of some poor defending by the visitors. Substitute Javier Hernandez scored a second-half consolation for United, who lost for the seventh time this season.
Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic drew a straight red card in second-half stoppage time for a two-footed tackle on Eden Hazard.
The win was Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho's 100th in the Premier League.
Mourinho made two changes to his starting XI, bringing in Eto'o for Fernando Torres and full-back Branislav Ivanovic for Ashley Cole. New signing Nemanja Matic started on the bench and entered the match as a substitute in the closing moments.
United, meanwhile, played without forwards Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, both of whom continue to recover from injuries. Manager David Moyes made three changes, introducing Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Ashley Young in place of Chris Smalling, Shinji Kagawa and Darren Fletcher.
United started strongly and created the game's first chance in the second minute. After playing a one-two in the box with Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young forced a save from Petr Cech with a shot from the left.
Chelsea, clearly second best in the opening exchanges, registered their first shot on target in the 11th minute, when Ramires directed a weak effort at David de Gea from outside the box.
Six minutes later, the Blues were ahead, against the run of play.
After picking up the ball outside the box following a failed clearance, Eto'o cut in from the right, beat Phil Jones with a fine move and shot from the corner of the box. The ball deflected off Michael Carrick and looped over de Gea and into the net for a 1-0 Chelsea lead.
The match remained open after the goal as United searched for an equaliser. Evra shot into the side netting in the 28th minute. Ten minutes later, Welbeck shot straight at Cech from close range after being set up by Adnan Januzaj's cross. Welbeck was upended by Cesar Azpilicueta's challenge as he shot, but referee Phil Dowd waved play on.
At the other end, Oscar came close to a spectacular second for Chelsea, but his overhead kick was off target in the 42nd minute. It was only a brief reprieve for United, though, as Chelsea doubled their lead just before half-time with the benefit of some poor defending by the visitors.
In the 45th minute, Ramires picked out Gary Cahill on the right, and Cahill crossed back into the middle for Eto'o. From there, the unmarked Eto'o swept into the net to put Chelsea ahead 2-0 at half-time.
Any thoughts of a second-half comeback ended quickly in the second half as Eto'o completed his hat-trick. Once again, poor defending was the culprit for United.
Chelsea won a corner in the 49th minute, and although de Gea made a fine save on Cahill's free header, the Spanish keeper was unable to keep out Eto'o's rebound. It was the Cameroon striker's sixth league goal of the season and fourth in his last two league appearances.
"I think we deserved to win, but we didn't deserve to be winning 2-0 at half-time, and they didn't deserve to be losing 2-0 at half-time," Mourinho said, per ChelseaFC.com. "(Manchester United) started the match better than us and they were a bit unlucky that we scored at the moment."
Mourinho added: "After that the game was different. We controlled the first half and when we scored the second goal we were in a great position. The third goal basically killed the game but after that they were coming at us."
The third goal took much of the fight out of United, but the visitors did maintain sporadic attacks. Welbeck directed a header wide of the post from a corner in the 69th minute. Moments later, Hernandez nearly dispossessed Cech when the Chelsea keeper took too much time on the ball in his own box.
United finally found the back of the net in the 78th minute following a superb team move. Welbeck drove to the byline on the right and cut back for Jones, who hit a pass to the back post for Hernandez. The Mexican tapped into the net to make it 3-1.
It was little more than a consolation goal, however, and United finished the match with 10 men following Vidic's two-footed foul on Hazard in stoppage time. Moments later, Rafael was fortunate not to see red for a two-footed lunge on Cahill.
For Chelsea, it turned out to be a comfortable path to a 10th win in 11 home matches in the league this season.
"We got a bit unlucky with the first goal. It took a bit of a deflection and went over the top, but the other two came from set-pieces, which is our own fault," Moyes said, per PremierLeague.com. "There was terrible defending in the first goal and just as bad in the (other) one. We didn't score our goals today and Chelsea did."
|Chelsea Player Ratings vs. Manchester United|
|John Obi Mikel||DM||N/A||6|
|Fernando Torres||ST||N/A||No rating|
|Nemanja Matic||DM||N/A||No rating|
|Manchester United Player Ratings vs. Chelsea|
|David De Gea||GK||7||6|
Chelsea host Stoke City in the fourth round of the FA Cup next Sunday. The Blues return to the Premier League three days later with a match at home to West Ham United.
Manchester United host Sunderland on Wednesday for the second leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final. United trail 2-1 after the first leg. The Red Devils return to the Premier League the following Tuesday with a home match against Cardiff City.