London – Aston Villa’s 28-year stay in the English top flight ended on Saturday with a 1-0 loss at Manchester United, while Newcastle and Sunderland gave themselves hope of escaping the Premier League relegation zone by both winning 3-0.
The threat of relegation ended some time ago for Chelsea, but an 11th loss of a feeble title defense was inflicted by Manchester City. Sergio Aguero’s hat trick secured a 3-0 win that bolstered City’s position in the Champions League places.
Relegation to the second-tier League Championship was confirmed for former European champion Villa in a season of turmoil that has seen the bottom-place club collect only 16 points from 34 games. Marcus Rashford’s goal sealed Villa’s fate, while keeping United in touch with the top four.
“It’s never nice to see it confirmed but it’s been on the cards for a while,” Aston Villa defender Joleon Lescott told the BBC. “Now it’s official it’s a weight off people’s shoulders and we can go into the last four games with a bit of freedom and something to prove . . . and show the fans we still have a fight in us.”
Villa has been in the Premier League since its inaugural season in 1992-93 and had been in the top flight in its previous guise for four years before that. Villa won the top tier in 1981 and followed it up by lifting the European Cup the following season but was relegated in 1987.
Villa, now owned by American businessman Randy Lerner, is likely to find it harder to make an instant return to the top division like it did in 1988.
There has never been a worse time to be relegated from the Premier League. New television contracts kick in from next season, worth more than £8.3 billion ($12 billion) over three years. Teams are set to earn at least £100 million per season in TV and prize money.
Villa is in line to receive around £65 million for finishing bottom in a sliding scale that sees the champions earn around £100 million.
Newcastle and Sunderland are both scrapping to avoid missing out on the larger windfall from next season.
Sunderland moved one point from safety by winning at Norwich and it has a game in hand over the eastern England club, which is immediately outside of the relegation zone in 17th. Fabio Borini put Sunderland ahead from the penalty spot in the first half, while Jermaine Defoe and Duncan Watmore netted after the break.
Newcastle is two points behind Sunderland after beating Swansea and Rafa Benitez’s team also has a game in hand over Norwich. Jamaal Lascelles headed Newcastle ahead at the end of the first half and there were late goals from Moussa Sissoko and Andros Townsend.
Saturday’s focus at the top of the standings was on the scrap for the fourth Champions League spot.
City followed up its mid-week victory over Paris Saint-Germain, which secured a Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid, by dismantling Chelsea.
Aguero’s first two goals completed counterattacks launched by Kevin De Bruyne. The third came from an 80th-minute penalty after Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was dismissed for clipping Fernandinho.
City provisionally climbed above Arsenal into third place. United is three points behind Arsenal in fifth place and could have to settle for a place in the second-tier Europa League.
The focus returns to the title race in the coming days. On Sunday, Leicester hosts West Ham and third-place Arsenal takes on Crystal Palace. Tottenham, which is seven points behind Leicester in second, is at Stoke on Monday.
Elsewhere on Saturday, seventh-place Southampton remains in contention for Europa League qualification after drawing 1-1 at Everton. Watford climbed to 12th place by winning 1-0 at West Bromwich Albion thanks to goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes saving two penalties after Ben Watson’s goal.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5