LONDON (AP) — Manchester United will have to settle for Europa League football next season after a dismal finish to the Premier League season reached a new low with a 1-1 draw at last-place Huddersfield on Sunday.
United’s slim chances of snatching a top-four finish — and a place in the Champions League — ended in almost symbolic fashion as a defensive breakdown in the 60th minute allowed the hosts to equalize through Isaac Mbenza, who was allowed to run clear through on goal on a quick counterattack. It was the kind of mistake that has plagued Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team too often in recent weeks, with the team winning just one of its last eight games in all competitions.
United had several chances to score a winner against a side with nothing to play for after already being relegated, but it was another limp display from Solskjaer’s team that highlighted just how big a task the Norwegian faces in trying to bring long-term success to the storied club. That task will be even harder without the lure — and riches — of Champions League football, as United can no longer catch fourth-place Tottenham in the final round.
“We haven’t deserved to be a top-four (side). We’ve chased the pack, we’ve been given chances,” Solskjaer said. “When we got the opportunities we weren’t able to really grab them. Today was just the confirmation of a long season. Because in the end, the table doesn’t lie.”
Chelsea looks likely to return to Europe’s elite, though, after a 3-0 home win over Watford lifted it into third place. Chelsea had been booed off the pitch at halftime after being largely outplayed by the visitors, but quickly turned things around with two goals in a three-minute span after the break.
Chelsea could even clinch a top-four spot later Sunday if Arsenal fails to beat Brighton at home.
Here’s a look at Sunday’s games:
WHEEL COMES OFF FOR UNITED
Much like Solskjaer’s entire tenure so far, it all started well for United at Huddersfield only for the team to falter in the end.
Scott McTominay gave United the lead in the eighth minute with a shot that slipped underneath Jonas Lossl, but the Huddersfield goalkeeper made amends by setting up the equalizer on the hour mark. After collecting a cross, he quickly booted the ball up the pitch and an error by Luke Shaw allowed Mbenza to come one-on-one with David De Gea and score with a shot between the Spaniard’s legs.
“We have conceded too many of those this season,” Solskjaer said. “It hurts, every time you don’t win a game of football. Especially with the start we made.”
Mbenza’s goal was only Huddersfield’s 10th at home this season and he celebrated by kicking the corner flag so hard it broke — leading to a five-minute delay as stadium staff searched for a replacement.
CHELSEA GOES THIRD
For the opening 45 minutes, it looked like Chelsea would also fail to capitalize on Tottenham’s loss at Bournemouth on Saturday. The first-half display at Stamford Bridge was so poor that Maurizio Sarri’s side was booed off by the home crowd at the break, another sign that fans’ patience with the Italian manager could be coming to an end.
But Ruben Loftus-Cheek gave Sarri some breathing space with a header in the 48th minute and David Luiz netted the second just three minutes later from another corner.
Gonzalo Higuain added the third with an elegant chip past goalkeeper Ben Foster from a difficult angle as Chelsea made sure that a win against Leicester in the final round will secure third place and Champions League football next season.
Sarri said Thursday’s trip to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League semifinals — where Chelsea drew 1-1 — could have contributed to the poor start.
“At the beginning we were tired physically and mentally. Then in the second half they lowered the intensity and we got in control of the match,” he said.
Defender Gary Cahill came on in the final minutes for a farewell appearance in his last home game for the club, and was then hoisted into the air by his teammates after the final whistle.
Eden Hazard was back in the starting lineup after being on the bench Thursday and set up the first two goals with deliveries into the box.
The only negative for Chelsea was N’Golo Kante having to come off injured after just 10 minutes, with Loftus-Cheek coming on as his replacement.
NORWICH WINS CHAMPIONSHIP
Having already secured promotion to the Premier League, Norwich added the second-tier League Championship title with a 2-1 win against Aston Villa.
Mario Vrancic scored the winner in the 86th to crown a superb season for the Canaries.
“To win the title is the icing on the cake,” Norwich manager Daniel Farke said. “To be able to lift the trophy at this amazing ground is a fantastic feeling.”
Aston Villa still has a chance to win promotion as well through the four-team playoffs, where it will play West Bromwich Albion in the semifinals. Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds and Frank Lampard’s Derby square off in the other semifinal, which will rekindle talk about a spying scandal between the two teams earlier this season.
Source: FOX Sport