Mon. Jan 25th, 2021

Chelsea moved top of the Premier League after coming from behind to beat Leeds 3-1 on the night 2,000 fans returned to Stamford Bridge.The Blues had to bounce back after Patrick Bamford’s early opener against his former club.

But the home fans in attendance after the coronavirus-enforced absence got a glimpse of why Frank Lampard’s remodelled side are now title contenders as goals from Olivier Giroud, Kurt Zouma and Christian Pulisic extended Chelsea’s unbeaten run to 16 games.

Victory takes Lampard’s men – reinforced by a £220 million (US$296 million) spending spree in the transfer market – a point clear of Tottenham and Liverpool, who are in action on Sunday at home to Arsenal and Wolves respectively.

Edouard Mendy had conceded just once in six previous Premier League appearances to solve Chelsea’s goalkeeping woes, but the Ivorian was partly at fault as Bamford kept up his fine start to the season after just four minutes.

The Leeds striker never made a first-team appearance in five years at Chelsea but is proving his doubters wrong back in the top-flight. He scored his eighth goal in 11 games with a calm finish to round a hesitant Mendy after Kalvin Phillips’s pass opened up the Blues defence.

Giroud earned his first Premier League start of the season after scoring four times against Sevilla in the Champions League in midweek.

The French international would have had an equaliser earlier had Timo Werner not somehow turned his goalbound header onto the bar from point-blank range.

Illan Meslier had another inspired game in the Leeds goal, but he nearly gifted his compatriot a goal with a poor clearance into Giroud’s path, which he pulled wide.

Giroud did finally level on 27 minutes when he slotted home Reece James’s dangerous low cross.

However, Chelsea were dealt a blow in the build-up to that goal as Hakim Ziyech pulled up with a hamstring injury and had to be replaced by Pulisic.

After the break, Chelsea’s superior class showed to allow Lampard to get another one over old foe Marcelo Bielsa.

Lampard was furious when during his time at Derby, Bielsa sent a spy to the Rams’ training ground before a Championship match in 2019.

Leeds beat Lampard’s men three times that season but lost the one that mattered as Derby progressed to the playoff final with a 4-2 win at Elland Road.

Bielsa’s men bounced back to romp to the Championship title last season and are showing they belong in the Premier League as they more than competed with one of the favourites for the title.

Raphinha blazed over a glorious chance to restore the visitors’ lead early in the second period after Thiago Silva blocked his first attempt.

The chances for Chelsea soon began to flow, though, as Meslier had to make a brilliant double save from Werner before Mason Mount’s goalbound shot was deflected over by Ezgjan Alioski.

From the resulting corner, Mount’s delivery was powered home by Zouma for the centre-back’s fourth goal of the season.

Werner passed up another glorious chance as he again shot too close to Meslier with just the ‘keeper to beat.

However, the German finally made a positive contribution in stoppage time as he accelerated away down the right and squared for Pulisic to get his injury-hit season up and running.

Earlier, Manchester United gave the West Ham support the second-half show they did not want to see as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men won 3-1 in the first Premier League match with fans inside the stadium since March.

A crowd of 2,000 Hammers fans saw their side take a deserved first-half lead through Tomas Soucek at the London Stadium.

But United kicked off a huge week with a much-needed win as three goals in 13 minutes from Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford moved the Red Devils up to fourth and within two points of the Premier League leaders.

“It’s something everyone knows the game has missed,” said Rashford on the return of fans. “It’s just a great feeling to have some fans back, 2,000 is much better than nothing.”

United have now come from behind to win in all five away league games this season.

“We need to stop doing that. If we keep more clean sheets we will definitely win more games. It is good that we showed spirit, but ideally we don’t want to be conceding,” added Rashford, who was summoned from the bench at half-time, along with Bruno Fernandes to turn the game in United’s favour.

Solskjaer’s side need a point when they travel to RB Leipzig on Tuesday to secure a place in the Champions League last 16 before hosting Manchester City next weekend.

However, the manager’s plan to give Fernandes and Rashford a rest before the trip to Germany backfired as United were lucky to stay in the game before the break.

“Football is ups and downs,” said Solskjaer. “Poor first half. In the second half of course the goal changes the mood, the first one. Great goal by Paul, then Mason’s goal is special.

“I am very, very pleased with the performance. Last week we were 2-0 down at Southampton so this was a step forward, we were only one down!”

Jarrod Bowen had a goal ruled out for offside before he teed up Pablo Fornals to head a great chance into the side-netting.

Fornals came even closer moments later when the Spaniard stabbed a shot off the post.

But the goal West Ham deserved came seven minutes before the break when Soucek turned home Declan Rice’s flick-on from a corner at the back post.

Sebastien Haller should have doubled the lead for David Moyes’s men, but the Ivorian slipped with the goal at his mercy after rounding Dean Henderson, who was deputising for the injured David de Gea.

Fernandes and Rashford were summoned at the break and United were a different side in the second half.

Pogba produced the flash of brilliance he is capable of but has so rarely shown in a United shirt to kickstart the comeback as he curled home a long-range shot from Fernandes’s pass.

West Ham boss David Moyes was furious on the touchline as he believed the ball had gone out of play from Henderson’s punt into Fernandes’s path, but VAR could find no conclusive proof to disallow the goal.

Three minutes later, the visitors led as Alex Telles’s cross was brilliantly controlled and thrashed into the net by Greenwood for his first Premier League goal of the season.

United were now in full flow as they could counter-attack into acres of space behind the Hammers’ defence.

Rashford had a sighter as he struck the post from a brilliant Fernandes through ball.

But the England international was clinical with a second chance as this time Mata unlocked the West Ham defence and Rashford coolly lifted the ball over the advancing Lukasz Fabianski 12 minutes from time. (AFP)

By Bureau