Championship Sunday focus: Chelsea

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Story so far… So close but yet so far. Both domestically and in Europe the Blues have come up just short as Jose Mourinho led the West Londoners to the UEFA Champions League semifinals, where they lost to Atletico Madrid, and points dropped against Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Aston Villa and Norwich in the closing weeks have cost them a shot at the Premier League title. Eden Hazard won the PFA Young Player of the Year award and has been Chelsea’s main goal threat. It has been an up and down season, as no silverware for the ‘Special One’ must be a concern. Over the course of the season we’ve seen his infamous cynicism surface on many occasions, no more so than when he lost his 77-game home unbeaten record in the PL to Sunderland.

Mourinho demands success and he hasn’t delivered silverware in his first season back in charge at the Bridge. New signings Willian, Andre Schurrle and Nemanja Matic are finding their feet and Mourinho’s “kids” are alright.

MORE: Head here for all things Championship Sunday

 Who do they play and where can I watch it: Chelsea travel to already relegated Cardiff City, as the Blues head to the Welsh capital with their title hopes dashed. You can watch the match live on CNBC at 10 a.m. ET and stream it online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Form guide: The Blues beat Cardiff 4-1 at Stamford Bridge back in October after going 1-0 down. In recent weeks they have struggled against the lesser teams and their form has been patchy at best heading into the finale.

March 29 – at Crystal Palace, L 0-1
April 5 – vs. Stoke City, W 3-0
April 13 – at Swansea, W 1-0
April 19 – vs. Sunderland, L 1-2
April 27 – at Liverpool, W 2-0
May 4 – vs.  Norwich City, D 0-0

What’s at stake: Chelsea have already qualified automatically for the UCL group stages next season, which is what Mourinho kept saying was the goal. They could finish second if they win and Liverpool lose on Sunday, while Arsenal can overtake them only by winning and scoring 18 goals in the process and a defeat for Chelsea. The Blues are looking at third for the second-straight season.

When the final whistle blows: They will still be in third place after facing already relegated Cardiff City on the final day of the season in South Wales. The big question will be if Diego Costa seals his much rumored transfer to West London as Mourinho looks to add two or three key signings.

Mourinho on muted celebrations from Lukaku, himself

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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There’s a lot of buzz about celebrating, and not celebrating, when it comes to Manchester United.

Star striker Romelu Lukaku‘s post-goal actions were muted for a second-straight week, and manager Jose Mourinho appeared nonchalant on the bench.

[ RECAP: WBA 1-2 Man Utd ]

For Lukaku, that could be down to his status as a former West Brom player (and to be sure he was quite energetic in support of Jesse Lingard‘s insurance goal).

As for Mourinho, this is a man who was quite critical of Man City’s celebrations after winning a derby at Old Trafford. And Jose isn’t one to let a story line die unnecessarily.

Here’s Mourinho when asked about Lukaku’s non-celebration, from the BBC:

“Maybe he looks to the bench and sees his manager doesn’t celebrate. Maybe he loves West Brom. Maybe he remembers the team that helped him early in his career.

“I will celebrate if my team scores a winning goal in the last minute. But you have to have more maturity and keep your feet on the ground. If some guys want to be kids until the last day of their careers or if they want to act to the cameras then they can. But if we score an important goal then I can do anything.”

United is back to within 11 points of leaders Man City, and it’s a massive mountain to climb for the Red Devils. Yet Ander Herrera, who was terrific again on Sunday, said the directive is simple: control what you can.

“We won three titles last season, which was very good. It is true that the top of the table is difficult to reach right now but this is Premier League, you never know. Our aim is just to keep winning games.”

The side’s 41 points through 18 matches would’ve been enough to lead the Premier League in two of the previous four seasons. No one’s going to tell United to be content with where they stand, but it’s been a fine season for Mourinho’s men so far.

WATCH: Liverpool battering Bournemouth with highlight reel half

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Philippe Coutinho is capable of elite magic, and he conjured up some fantasy on Sunday at the Vitality Stadium.

[ MORE: Watch via NBCSports.com ]

Liverpool and Bournemouth were scoreless when the Brazilian dribbled past Simon Francis and Lewis Cook on a mazy run, taking Andrew Robertson‘s square pass and dancing through daylight.

If only there were a body cam on Adam Smith, who was chasing Coutinho the whole time!

Dejan Lovren — does this require we say “of all people?” — then scored a diving header after Roberto Firmino saved a wayward corner kick.

And Mohamed Salah, what else can you say about the 20-goal scorer (in all competitions)?

Salah would get his goal in stunning fashion, bodying off a defender before dribbling past two more to finish with an off-balance belt past Begovic.

Kaka calls it a career; Won World Cup, Ballon d’Or

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson
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He’s the last Ballon d’Or winner neither named Messi nor Ronaldo, and he’s calling it a career.

Kaka announced his retirement on Sunday after a gleaming career on three continents.

Born Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, Kaka won the 2002 World Cup with Brazil and also boasts two Confederations Cup wins amongst his 92 caps and 29 international goals.

[ MAN CITY-SPURS: 3 things |  Studs and duds ]

Kaka debuted for Sao Paolo in 2001, and left for AC Milan three seasons later. Thrice names in the UEFA Team of the Year and twice the Serie A Footballer of the Year, Kaka won Serie A with Milan and La Liga with Real Madrid.

He spent the final three seasons of his career in Major League Soccer with Orlando City SC, and was magnificent. The 35-year-old scored 25 goals with 19 assists for the Lions.

West Brom 1-2 Manchester United: Red Devils hang on

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  • United back into second
  • Lukaku scores 10th PL goal of season
  • Baggies winless in 16

Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard scored first half goals and Manchester United held on to beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 at the Hawthorns on Sunday.

Gareth Barry scored the Baggies’ lone goal, as Alan Pardew‘s men sit 19th and without a win since August.

United pulls three points ahead of Chelsea, and is 11 points back of Man City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

West Brom wasn’t intimidated by the task at hand, and James McClean was particularly lively as the Baggies tried to find an opener.

But United quickly settled into control through possession, albeit without any effective incisiveness.

That changed when Lukaku rose to deposit a trademark header beyond the reach of Ben Foster, converting Marcus Rashford‘s cross with power.

After a moment of danger provided by Allan Nyom and Salomon Rondon, United made it 2-0 when Lingard took a lay-off from Juan Mata and hit a shot that Ahmed Hegazi deflected past Foster.

Jake Livermore forced David De Gea into a low save in the 44th minute.

 

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The Baggies pulled one back as both Evans and Barry could’ve tapped in a loose ball off a corner kick.

Barry did, and United was on its heels. Credit Alan Pardew for his substitutes of Barry, Chris Brunt, and Jay Rodriguez (though they were, after all, on the bench).

Rodriguez powered a header off Brunt’s cross wide of the near post with about five minutes to play.

And a scramble in front nearly put the Baggies level, but De Gea was there. The keeper was kicked by Ahmed Hegazi and came up smarting.