HATTRICK MAN: Eto'o celebrates number three (PA)
SAMUEL ETO'O grabbed a memorable treble as Chelsea brushed aside Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday (Jan 19).
Chelsea go within two points of leaders Arsenal, with United a massive 14 points further adrift of top spot. Javier Hernandez gave the visitors a late consolation goal, but based on their high standards of seasons past, this was poor from the reigning title holders.
Eto'o, the striker many had thought had enjoyed his better days in Spain and Italy made United pay, taking his chances where others at Chelsea had been found wanting. Any United side without the strike force pairing of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie would always be up against it, and this David Moyes' side looked second best all afternoon.
United's woes were compounded when Nemanja Vidic was shown a straight red card for his clumsy challenge on Eden Hazard, and their indiscipline should have cost them further when Rafael's two footed off the ground lunge on Gary Cahill was worthy of another red, but the Brazil defender escaped with just a yellow.
United had failed to score in last three games against Chelsea in all competitions, with 21 goals in their last three encounters at Stamford Bridge. Moyes, the 'chosen one,' has not won away at any of the big four (United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal) in his managerial career stretching back to his time at Everton, a record that now reads P48 W0 D18 L30. In contrast, the now 'humble one,' Jose Mourinho has never lost at home to United.
The omens for the visitors were not good, but still the side in red made all the early running. Ashley Young forced Petr Cech to save after a neat one two with Danny Welbeck after two minutes. But the home side held firm to see Ramires have the Blues' first shot in anger but David De Gea held firm.
Asked to play a more disciplined defensive role has not been to David Luiz's liking, and his unorthodox body check on Phil Jones was more akin to basketball. Fortunately for Luiz, referee Phil Dowd missed the foul as he shielded Eden Hazard
Chelsea took the lead after 17 minutes after Eto'o skipped past Jones, and let fly with a shot which looped in, past an alarmed De Gea after deflection off Michael Carrick.
Two minutes later and Luiz's robust defending was penalised with a yellow card for a forearm on Antonio Valenica. With Oscar, Ramires and Hazard feeding into the Chelsea attack, the visitors knew they would be up against it, and Moyes looked on, knowing of the enormity of the burden of the task ahead of him.
Not that United weren't adventurous, Patrice Evra saw a shot hit the side netting, and eight minutes before the break, United should have been level. Adnan Janujaz may only be 18 years old, but his confidence and technical ability has already signalled him out as a future star at Old Trafford.
From the left, Janujaz managed to feed the ball to Welbeck, who was almost as startled to get the pass as the stranded wall of blue the ball passed. With only Cech to beat however, Welbeck's shot hit the ball into the arms of the Chelsea keeper.
Chelsea responded through Oscar's acrobatic overhead kick which had United panicked after another good run from Hazard. With the game ambling towards half time however, Chelsea struck a second. Willian's corner wasn't dealt with and Ramires pounced onto the loose ball to feed to Cahill. His cross was tucked in put by Eto'o for his fifth league goal of the season.
United were shell shocked, and their misery was compounded four minutes after the restart. Another Willian corner, and as United switched off, Cahill headed powerfully, De Gea could only block straight to a grateful Eto'o, who smashed in his third.
With the game drifting and still the majority of the second half to play, Mourinho's only worry would have been complacency. What his keeper Cech was thinking as substitute Javier Hernandez came rushing out, only he will know, but the Czech keeper got away with taking on Hernandez on his goal line.
Despite being three goals adrift, United still attacked and got a consolation goal from Hernandez after 78 minutes. Welbeck crossed for Jones, who helped the ball on towards Hermadez sliding in at far post to make it a 3-1 scoreline.