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EPL: Man Utd, Chelsea Seal Top-Four Spots

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Manchester United and Chelsea sealed Champions League places on Sunday as Bournemouth and Watford fell through the trapdoor on a dramatic final day of the longest Premier League season.

Liverpool were crowned champions last month but there was much to play for in the final 90 minutes of a campaign that started on August 9 last year and was interrupted by a three-month coronavirus shutdown.

United finished third after a nervy 2-0 win in a Champions League shootout against Leicester while Chelsea ended in fourth spot after beating Wolves by the same scoreline at Stamford Bridge.

At the other end of the table, Bournemouth and managerless Watford dropped to the Championship while Aston Villa fans breathed a huge sigh of relief after they got the draw they needed at West Ham.

Leicester, in fifth spot, will play in the Europa League next season where they will be joined by Tottenham, who drew 1-1 with Crystal Palace to leapfrog Wolves.

Wolves still have two routes to qualify for European competition next season — either through winning the Europa League or if Chelsea beat Arsenal in next week’s FA Cup final.

After a frantic six weeks of action following the Premier League restart, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea required just a draw to seal Champions League qualification for next term and two goals in first-half stoppage time gave them breathing space.

Mason Mount whipped in from a free-kick to give Chelsea the lead and the home side went further in front almost immediately, when Olivier Giroud slid home.

“There were a lot of unknowns when I came in, could we move forward without Eden Hazard?” Lampard told Sky Sports.

“We knew we had lost a massive player. We’ve a real spirit within the group now and it’s a real team effort now.

“Myself and the staff want to improve every time — the challenge now is to see what more we can do next season.”

United, whose form has dipped in recent weeks after they pulled themselves back into contention for the Champions League, were locked at 0-0 at half-time at the King Power Stadium.

But they finally broke the deadlock in the 71st minute, when Bruno Fernandes scored from the penalty spot after Anthony Martial was upended. Jesse Lingard scored late to seal the win.

The result is a huge lift for coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose team were 14 points behind the Foxes at the start of the year but is a bitter blow for Brendan Rodgers, whose side have been camped in the top four for almost the entire campaign.

“I’m delighted,” said Solskjaer. “We’ve achieved a Champions League spot, we’ve come from way, way behind teams and gone past them. We’ve shown that we’ve got the consistency, the right mentality. We’re building a group and a performance culture here that we can be proud of.”

– Relegation battle –

Two goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and a strike by Kieran Tierney gave Arsenal a 3-0 lead against Watford, who sacked Nigel Pearson earlier this month.

A Troy Deeney penalty and a Danny Welbeck strike gave them hope but it was not enough and Watford were relegated after a 3-2 defeat.

“This is a reflection of the whole year,” Deeney told Sky Sports. “Not quite been good enough. Heartbreaking for the people who work behind the scenes and we feel sorry for them.”

Bournemouth beat Everton 3-1 at Goodison Park but needed West Ham to beat Aston Villa to survive.

Jack Grealish’s late goal for Villa was a hammer blow but the home side dramatically levelled a minute later through Andriy Yarmolenko.

However, Villa held on to secure their Premier League survival.

“It’s incredibly painful, we always believed we were capable of a last-minute escape,” Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe told the BBC.

“We had the scores on the scoreboard here so it was teased in our face but that’s the best we’ve played in a long, long time.”

An early goal by Harry Kane put Tottenham in front against Crystal Palace but Palace equalised early in the second half through Jeffrey Schlupp. That was enough for Jose Mourinho’s men to finish in sixth position.

Liverpool beat Newcastle 3-1 to finish the season on 99 points and second-placed Manchester City finished the campaign with a flourish, thumping Norwich 5-0 to reach 102 goals.

Elsewhere, Brighton beat Burnley 2-1 and Southampton beat Sheffield United 3-1.

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy won the Golden Boot with 23 goals, one clear of Aubameyang and Southampton’s Danny Ings.

afp

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