Chelsea on Sunday secured a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League as Manchester United and Arsenal badly fluffed their lines in the race to finish in the English Premier League’s top four.
Maurizio Sarri’s side beat Watford 3-0 to lift them into third spot behind Liverpool and Manchester City and their day was made all the sweeter as United drew at relegated Huddersfield Town and Arsenal were held by Brighton & Hove Albion.
The results mean that with one round of fixtures remaining Chelsea, on 71 points, cannot be caught by fifth-placed Arsenal, who are on 67 points, or United, a point further back.
Fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, on 70 points and with a far better goal-difference than north London rivals Arsenal, are virtually assured of a Champions League spot next season barring an unlikely sequence of events.
Sarri’s team were booed off after a sloppy first half, but two goals in three minutes from Ruben Loftus-Cheek and David Luiz lifted the mood at Stamford Bridge, before Gonzalo Higuain sealed victory, Chelsea’s first in four games in all competitions.
Finishing in the top four and winning the UEFA Europa League would make the Italian manager’s troubled first season a relative success.
“We want to be in the top four at the end of the season. We want to be in the Champions League,” said Sarri, whose side drew the first leg of their Europa League semi-final against Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1. “The Europa League is also a very important competition and we want to win it because we think we deserve to a trophy this season. So we have two targets.”
Despite their miserable 1-1 draw, Arsenal can still reach the Champions League after two seasons away from Europe’s top club competition if they win the Europa League.
They are in a strong position after beating Valencia 3-1 in the first leg of their semi-final.
Arsenal started brightly at the Emirates Stadium and took the lead through an early Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang penalty, but they squandered opportunities to extend their advantage and were made to pay when Glenn Murray scored from the penalty spot after Granit Xhaka fouled Solly March.
Disappointed manager Unai Emery turned his thoughts to Thursday’s second leg of their Europa League tie, with Arsenal set to finish outside the top four for a third consecutive season.
“We knew it is going to be difficult, but our focus is now the Europa League,” Emery told the BBC. “We have the opportunity in the Europa League to do something important, and we will try and do that.”
United slinked off the pitch at Huddersfield after an embarrassing 1-1 draw, with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitting his side did not deserve to qualify for the Champions League.
The visitors had to rely on Huddersfield for a helping hand for their only goal as Scott McTominay’s strike from the edge of the penalty area went straight through Jonas Lossl to given them an early lead.
Huddersfield had only scored nine goals at home all season, but one hopeful punt from Lossl cut United open for the equalizer on the hour mark. Luke Shaw failed to cut out the goalkeeper’s clearance and allowed Isaac Mbenza a clear run on goal to slot between David de Gea’s legs.
“We gave ourselves a chance to be in the Champions League,” Solskjaer said. “We got so many opportunities to grab third or fourth and weren’t able to. The Europa League is the right place to be for us next year.”
The NBA said was re-evaluating its training program in China following allegations of abuse of young players by local staff and harassment of foreign staffers at a facility in Xinjiang. The comments come after a report by ESPN that quoted unnamed American coaches as saying that Chinese coaches hit young players. One American coach who worked at a camp in Xinjiang complained of harassment by local police, the sports network said. “The allegations in the ESPN article are disturbing,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said in an e-mail statement on Thursday. “We ended our involvement with the basketball academy in Xinjiang in June
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