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MANCHESTER UNITED’S efforts to overhaul long-time leaders Chelsea, came to a terminal halt at Stamford Bridge last Saturday. José Mourinho’s star-studded ensemble fired on all cylinders, as the second successive league championship was claimed in convincing fashion.

United were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes when William Gallas put the Blues ahead from a John Terry corner after only four minutes, and they never really woke up. Four defenders were left standing in bewilderment by Joe Cole 15 minutes after the break, the England man nipping into the box, finishing in style. It was left to Ricardo Carvalho to make it three, 17 minutes from the end with a clinical finish. The title had been secured and even “the special one” was celebrating for once, despite throwing his winners medal into the crowd.

Liverpool beat Aston Villa 3-1 to draw level with United on points in second, but Manchester have a game in hand over their rivals. Tottenham’s quest to take fourth, and a Champions League place, was boosted by a 1-0 win over Bolton. Should Arsenal defeat Barcelona for the European crown, however, the achievement will become meaningless, Spurs automatically being demoted to the Uefa Cup competition.

The weekend’s results also decided the relegation issue one week early. Portsmouth escaped with a 2-1 away victory at Wigan, condemning Birmingham and West Bromwich to join Sunderland in the Coca-Cola Championship next season. Finally the last word must go to Alan Curbishley who made the shock announcement that he is leaving Charlton after 15 fairytale years. It is not known where the long-serving manager is heading next: he claims to need a rest. Only Alex Ferguson and Dario Gradi have served longer with one club in the football league.