United star Lukaku sinks Chelsea

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ROMELU Lukaku ended his scoring drought against the English Premier League's top teams before setting up the second-half winner for Jesse Lingard.
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Reuters

Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane scores the game’s only goal against Crystal Palace during their English Premier League match at Selhurst Park in south London yesterday. 

ROMELU Lukaku ended his scoring drought against the English Premier League’s top teams before setting up the second-half winner for Jesse Lingard as Manchester United came from behind to beat Chelsea 2-1 and reclaim second place yesterday.

Lukaku’s 39th-minute equalizer, canceling out Willian’s opener, was his first goal against any of the division’s leading eight sides this season and took him onto 22 in all competitions in his first season at United.

The Belgium striker then demonstrated another part of his game in the 75th by clipping over a cross that was headed in by Lingard, who had only been on the field for 11 minutes.

With this attritional win, earned with Paul Pogba back in the starting lineup, United climbed back above Liverpool into second place and opened up a six-point cushion to Chelsea in fifth place in the race for UEFA Champions League qualification. There are 10 games left though Manchester City has a 13-point lead at the top.

The match came after weeks of rancor between the two managers, with Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho firing off increasingly edgy barbs at each other in news conferences. Thinking Mourinho had called him a “clown,” Conte went as far as claiming the former Chelsea boss had dementia. Conte then offered to meet Mourinho “in a room” after the United manager brought up match-fixing allegations that were leveled at — and subsequently dropped against — Conte from his time in Italy.

There was a frosty handshake between the pair before kickoff and they avoided any confrontation during the game, which Chelsea started well and took the lead through the latest scorcher from Willian.

The Brazilian began a counterattack from his own box after heading clear a free kick. Bursting forward, Willian exchanged passes with Eden Hazard before running into the box and firing in a shot that was near to David De Gea but was so powerfully struck that it flew past the goalkeeper.

United hadn’t committed many players forward up to that point. Once they did, the equalizer arrived. Alexis Sanchez fed a pass to Anthony Martial, who laid the ball across for Lukaku to control and sidefoot home from 10 meters.

Chelsea faded after the break, with Willian and Hazard less effective and Pogba growing into the game for United.

Ex-Chelsea man Lukaku had a shot off a scissor kick tipped over by Thibaut Courtois, then showed a different facet of his game to create the winner by curling over a cross that was headed home by Lingard.

Earlier, Harry Kane headed a late winner to give Tottenham Hotspur a deserved 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace that lifted it into fourth place in the EPL.

Kane headed home from Christian Eriksen’s corner in the 88th to make up for two glaring misses earlier in the match at Selhurst Park.

He should have put Tottenham ahead early on when the ball fell to him in the middle of the box after a mistake by Patrick van Aanholt but Wayne Hennessey spread himself well and the striker’s shot ballooned over the bar.

The England striker was guilty of a more glaring miss early in the second half when Eriksen passed from the right and Kane, with time and space on the left, shot wide of the far post.

“We left that very late,” Kane said. “I thought it wasn’t going to be our day because we had a few chances, especially me, and Serge Aurier had one at the end too. But we kept going until the end and eventually got our rewards.

“We have had a tough patch, with a few tough games recently, now we have to keep that momentum going.”

It was Kane’s 35th goal of the season and made him the EPLs leading scorer this season with 24, one ahead of Liverpool’s Mo Salah.

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino felt his team deserved the victory after having more than 75 percent of possession.

“It was difficult today but we always knew we could score,” he said. “We had great players on the pitch; when you have them it’s always possible to score.”

After 5 league games without a win, Palace is above the drop zone only on goal difference.

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