London: Chelsea crushed Everton 4-1 Monday to move up to third place in the Premier League as the battle for a Champions League qualifying place intensified.
Goals from Icelandic-Dutch strike pair Eidur Gudjohnsen and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, plus winger Jesper Gronkjaer and substitute Gianfranco Zola gave them a fully-deserved win at Stamford Bridge and 63 points with three games to go.
With leaders Manchester United (74) and Arsenal (71) not playing, the focus switched to the third and fourth places which carry a coveted place in the Champions League qualifiers.
Just two points now separate the three teams involved in that battle after Newcastle United slipped to fourth on 62 points after they could only draw 1-1 at home to Aston Villa. Two goals in the last five minutes from skipper Sami Hyypia and Steven Gerrard gave Liverpool a vital 2-1 win over Charlton Athletic at Anfield for a tally of 61 points.
Everton stay sixth on 56 points and are now realistically out of the running, and must concentrate instead on defending their Uefa Cup place from a Blackburn Rovers side on 53 points after a 0-0 draw with Bolton Wanderers.
At the other end of the table, third-from-bottom West Ham United kept alive their faint hopes of avoiding relegation by beating Middlesbrough 1-0 to reach 32 points — three behind Leeds United.
But the battle for Europe soccer next season was the main focus of the day and few managers were as satisfied as Liverpool’s Gerard Houllier.
Houllier, whose side was trailing to a Shaun Bartlett goal after a defensive error by French defender Djimi Traore, said: “This game sums up our season... A big blunder, but character to come back through a difficult period, in the second half, and then the energy to finish the game well.
“We’ve got three games to play and we know what we want. We’ll go for it, we’ll give everything we have for that,” he added of the team’s aims to gain a Champions League qualifying place.
Newcastle boss Bobby Robson, meanwhile, was demanding nine points from his side after their draw against Villa.
“We knew it wouldn’t be easy, the Premiership never is. ”
Ireland striker Robbie Keane scored twice to give Tottenham Hotspur a 3-2 win over relegated West Bromwich Albion, French forward Christophe Dugarry hit two to give Birmingham City a 3-2 win over Southampton and Marc-Vivien Foe also got a brace in Manchester City’s 3-0 win over relegated Sunderland.