Leicester in relegation zone, Chelsea 11 points clear


LONDON, Feb 26: Hours after fired coach Claudio Ranieri bid farewell to the Leicester players, the calamitous champions slipped into the English Premier League’s relegation zone.

It was Crystal Palace’s 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough on Saturday that ensured Leicester will take to the field at the King Power Stadium on Monday against Liverpool in the bottom three.

Leicester is two points above last-placed Sunderland, which lost at Everton 2-0, and ahead of Hull only on goal difference. The reality of Leicester’s dire situation is stark for players who so incredibly won the league less than 10 months ago and are scrambling to convince fans they didn’t force out Ranieri.

“We are players and we can only affect (things) on the pitch; what happens above our heads at boardroom level is completely out of our control,” goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel told the BBC after Ranieri’s training-ground send-off on Saturday. “He came in and said his piece to the players, thanked us for our efforts and for last season, and said goodbye.

“It’s a shame it’s come to this. You could hear that it hurt him and it hurts the players that we haven’t performed well enough to make this carry on.”

The trophy is, however, set to be collected by an Italian for a second season running, with Antonio Conte’s Chelsea 11 points clear at the top.

Chelaea 3, Swansea 1

Cesc Fabregas reached 300 Premier League appearances with only his sixth start of the season, and he made the most of it. After dislodging Nemanja Matic from the lineup, the midfielder put Chelsea in front in the 19th minute with a deflected shot.

Pedro Rodriguez was the provider and Fabregas returned the favor after Fernando Llorente leveled with a header from Gylfi Sigurdsson’s free kick on the stroke of halftime. Fabregas slotted the ball through for Pedro to curl into the net through goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski’s hands in the 72nd.

Any prospect of a second equalizer for Swansea ended after Diego Costa volleyed in his 16th goal of the league campaign from Eden Hazard’s cutback in the 84th.

It was a miserable return to west London for Swansea manager Paul Clement, who was an assistant coach under Carlo Ancelotti when Chelsea won the title in 2010. The south Wales club is three points above the relegation zone.

Everton 2, Sunderland 0

Sunderland manager David Moyes’ dismal record of failing to take any points off former teams Everton and Manchester United continued. Idrissa Gana Gueye scored his first league goal and Romelu Lukaku equaled Duncan Ferguson’s Everton-record of 60 league goals, leaving Sunderland three points from safety.

Westbrom 2, Bournemout 1

West Bromwich Albion kept up its pursuit of European qualification and sent Bournemouth sliding toward the relegation zone. Josh King’s penalty for Bournemouth was wiped out as defenders Craig Dawson and Gareth McAuley gave the hosts a seventh win in eight home games.

While West Brom is eighth, four points behind Europa League-chasing Everton, Bournemouth is five points above the drop zone.

Palace 1, Middlesbrough 0

A first-half goal from Patrick van Aanholt gave Palace its first home win since Sam Allardyce took charge in December, taking the south London club out of the relegation zone.

Watford 1, West Ham 1

Andre Ayew’s seond-half goal canceled out Watford captain Troy Deeney’s third-minute penalty. West Ham finished the game with 10 men after Michail Antonio was sent off in the 86th minute after handling and receiving a second booking.

Hull 1, Burnley 1

Michael Keane redeemed himself after handling to concede a penalty that Tom Huddlestone converted in the 72nd minute. The defender produced the equaliser inside four minutes.