LONDON: Samuel Eto´o seized on slack defending to score his first Chelsea hat trick in a 3-1 victory over Manchester United on Sunday that provided further evidence of the Premier League champions´ struggles under David Moyes.
It was United´s seventh league loss, leaving them not only 14 points behind leader Arsenal but six points from the fourth Champions League spot. “We won´t throw the towel in until we can´t get there,” Moyes said. “The job is to try and finish first. I will keep trying to do that. Before today we´d lost one in six in the league, and I didn´t think there was a big difference between the teams today, not at all. The difference was our defending to set-pieces. Nothing else.”
For Jose Mourinho, it was his 100th Premier League win and it kept Chelsea within two points of the summit.
Chelsea took control of the game against the run of play at Stamford Bridge after a shot from Eto´o deflected off Michael Carrick into the net in the 17th minute.
After Danny Welbeck squandered a chance to equalize, Eto´o was left unmarked to tap in Chelsea´s second on the stroke of halftime.
The Cameroon striker scrambled in his third in the 49th after goalkeeper David de Gea parried Gary Cahill´s free header. “I´m very happy,” Eto´o, who joined from Anzhi Makhachkala in the summer transfer window, said in French. “My career wouldn´t have been as beautiful if I hadn´t gone to Chelsea.”
Although Javier Hernandez pulled one back from close range in the 78th to revitalize United, it came too late to prevent United slumping to its fourth loss in five games in all competitions at the start of 2014.
To add to United´s troubles, Moyes faces three matches without Nemanja Vidic after his captain was sent off in stoppage time for lunging at Eden Hazard in an undisciplined end.
In the uneasy transition since Moyes succeeded Alex Ferguson after the team won its 20th English title in May, even staying in the top-four elite could be beyond United, which is already out of the FA Cup.
The second-tier League Cup has taken on greater importance for United, with a 2-1 deficit to overturn against Sunderland in the second leg of their semifinal on Wednesday.
United´s start in west London had belied its lowly league position, by their standards, in seventh.
Shaper and more determined, United pressed with conviction. And Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was called on after two minutes to deny Ashley Young after a smart one-two by the winger with Danny Welbeck.
So confident was the visiting support that they taunted Mourinho: “You wanted this job.”
Mourinho appeared to spend the start of 2013 trying to audition for a United job that only became vacant in May when Ferguson retired and hand-picked Moyes to replace him.
But he ended up back at Chelsea in June rather than inheriting a United side in need of considerable strengthening.
The United defense was sliced through with ease for the opener. Eto´o cut in from the right, swept past Phil Jones and unleashed a shot that took a heavy deflection off Carrick´s boot before looping over De Gea into the net.
United squandered a chance to level in the 38th. Adnan Januzaj´s cross reached Welbeck in a central position but the striker couldn´t produce a clean shot.
Oscar then tried to double the lead with a bicycle kick that flew over from right in front of goal, and instead Chelsea´s second came from the boot of Eto´o again.
Welbeck only half cleared, Ramires seized possession and fed the ball to Hazard on the right flank. The winger then squared to the unmarked Eto´o to sweep a shot into the net as halftime loomed.
United had little time to settle after the break before its defense was breached again and Eto´o celebrated his first treble in English football.
Cahill headed in from Willian´s corner and De Gea only briefly blocked the ball before it went back out for Eto´o, who got ahead of Antonio Valencia to score.
United pulled one back when Jones´ scuffed shot was stabbed into the net by Hernandez, but never came closer to a comeback. “This is a project I know that I´m going to improve as it goes along,” Moyes said. “I was hoping to win more and be competing a bit more than we´ve been, but that´ll come.”
Mourinho is also still demanding improvement.”The first 20 minutes were not good,” he said. “I want the game to be in our control since the beginning and it was not.”
The one sour note for Chelsea was Fernando Torres picking up a knee ligament injury after replacing Eto´o that could rule him out for a month. (AP)