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Monday, April 5, 2010

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Just for kicks: Chelsea's John Obi Mikel, right, competes for the ball against Manchester United's Antonio Valencia during their match on Sunday at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. AP PHOTO

Chelsea wins at Old Trafford to take control of title race

MANCHESTER, England (AP) Substitute Didier Drogba scored a contentious match-winner as Chelsea toppled Manchester United from the Premier League summit Saturday with a 2-1 victory — its first at Old Trafford in five years.

Despite being offside when connecting with Salomon Kalou's pass, Drogba smashed home Chelsea's second goal in the 79th minute to put the London club two points clear of the defending champions.

"It's disappointing — it's just the quality of the official I'm afraid cost us," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "What I can't understand is the linesman was directly in front of it. He has no one near him, not a soul in front of him and he gets it wrong.

"And, really in a game of that magnitude, you need quality of officials and we didn't have them today. It was a poor, poor performance."

United went behind in the 20th minute after Joe Cole's deft flick. The champions were mostly overwhelmed by Chelsea and lacked a cutting edge without injured striker Wayne Rooney.

United finally started to impose itself just before Drogba's goal and substitute Federico Macheda scored within two minutes of the Cote d'Ivoire striker's 31st of the season, but it came too late.

"It was an important victory because we won at the home of a strong team," Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti said. "Unfortunately nothing is decided yet and we have to stay focused."

Arsenal stayed in touch and only three points behind Chelsea after beating Wolverhampton 1-0 courtesy of Nicklas Bendtner's stoppage-time winner.

While Chelsea had the week off due to its Champions League loss to Inter Milan last month, United was coming off a 2-1 defeat at Bayern Munich in the first leg of their quarterfinal, which saw Rooney sustain ligament damage.

Rooney had not missed a match against Chelsea since joining United in 2004 and even Ferguson contemplated the prospect of losing in his program notes.

"Even if we go down it wouldn't be a knockout," insisted Ferguson, who will be without Rooney for at least two more weeks as United bids for a fourth straight Premier League title.

United missed the England forward against Chelsea, with Dimitar Berbatov isolated as the lone striker.

The home team's lack of spark meant it was only a matter of time before Chelsea landed the first blow. Florent Malouda powered down the left side of the pitch and outmuscled Darren Fletcher before finding space to square to Cole at the near post. The winger flicked the ball into the net with the inside of his left heel and almost seemed surprised by the end result.

"Cole's goal was key for the game — he is fit now and only has to improve his confidence and I think this will help," Ancelotti said. "And Malouda is fantastic — he has quality and is an explosive player."

Barca beats Bilbao

MADRID (AP) Bojan Kric scored twice Saturday as an under-strength Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 4-1 to go top in the Spanish League, at least until Real Madrid plays.

Madrid needs to win at Racing Santander on Sunday to match Barcelona's 77 points ahead of next weekend's match between the title rivals at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

Jeffren Suarez scored his first goal for Barcelona, side-footing in at the far post from Eric Abidal's pass in the 25th minute.

Krkic — a late callup to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who injured his right calf in the warmup — scored from a turnover in the 40th, and found the net again in the 59th for his fourth goal of the season.

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