Soccer

Manchester United misses out on Champions League spot as Chelsea secures place

AP

Manchester United will have to settle for Europa League soccer next season after a dismal end to this campaign reached another low.

Chelsea, though, can start planning for the Champions League again.

The Premier League’s top-four picture crystalized on Sunday as Chelsea earned a 3-0 home win against Watford while United and Arsenal were both held to 1-1 draws.

It means Chelsea is guaranteed to finish at least fourth — earning a coveted Champions League spot after a year in the Europa League — while United can no longer end up better than fifth after next weekend’s final round.

“We haven’t deserved to be a top-four (side),” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after his team limped to a draw at already relegated Huddersfield. “When we got the opportunities we weren’t able to really grab them. Today was just the confirmation of a long season. Because in the end, the table doesn’t lie.”

Arsenal, meanwhile, will need a small miracle to overtake fourth-place Tottenham as it trails its north London rival by three points and an eight-goal margin on goal difference. The Gunners were also held 1-1 by Brighton at the Emirates in its final home game of the season, meaning it will probably have to win the Europa League in order to clinch a Champions League spot.

Chelsea and Arsenal could meet in the Europa League final if they both advance from the second leg of the semifinals on Thursday.

Much like Solskjaer’s entire tenure so far, it all started well for United at Huddersfield only for the team to falter in the end.

Its already slim top-four hopes ended in almost symbolic fashion as a defensive breakdown in the 60th minute allowed the hosts to equalize through Isaac Mbenza, who was allowed to run clear through on goal on a quick counterattack. It was the kind of mistake that has plagued Solskjaer’s team too often in recent weeks, with the team winning just one of its last eight games in all competitions.

Scott McTominay gave United the lead in the eighth minute with a shot that slipped underneath Jonas Lossl, but the Huddersfield goalkeeper made amends by setting up the equalizer on the hour mark. After collecting a cross, he quickly booted the ball up the pitch and an error by Luke Shaw allowed Mbenza to come one-on-one with David De Gea.

“We have conceded too many of those this season,” Solskjaer said. “It hurts, every time you don’t win a game of football. Especially with the start we made.”

Mbenza’s goal was only Huddersfield’s 10th at home this season and he celebrated by kicking the corner flag so hard it broke — leading to a five-minute delay as stadium staff searched for a replacement.

For the opening 45 minutes, it looked like Chelsea would also fail to capitalize on Tottenham’s loss at Bournemouth on Saturday. The first-half display at Stamford Bridge was so poor that Maurizio Sarri’s side was booed off by the home crowd at the break.

But Ruben Loftus-Cheek gave Sarri some breathing space with a header in the 48th minute and David Luiz netted the second just three minutes later from another corner.

Gonzalo Higuain added the third with an elegant chip past goalkeeper Ben Foster from a difficult angle.

Sarri said Thursday’s trip to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League semifinals — where Chelsea drew 1-1 — could have contributed to the poor start.

“At the beginning we were tired physically and mentally. Then in the second half they lowered the intensity and we got in control of the match,” he said.

The only negative for Chelsea was N’Golo Kante having to come off injured after just 10 minutes, with Loftus-Cheek coming on as his replacement.

Elsewhere, having already secured promotion to the Premier League, Norwich added the second-tier League Championship title with a 2-1 win against Aston Villa.

Mario Vrancic scored the winner in the 86th to crown a superb season for the Canaries.

“To win the title is the icing on the cake,” Norwich manager Daniel Farke said. “To be able to lift the trophy at this amazing ground is a fantastic feeling.”

Aston Villa still has a chance to win promotion as well through the four-team playoffs, where it will play West Bromwich Albion in the semifinals. Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds and Frank Lampard’s Derby square off in the other semifinal, which will rekindle talk about a spying scandal between the two teams earlier this season.