Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho attempted to dampen the euphoria emanating from Stamford Bridge after his side closed to within two wins of the Premier League title by beating Manchester United.
Eden Hazard’s 38th-minute strike gave Chelsea a clinical 1-0 home victory on Saturday that means they will be champions if they win their next two games away to Arsenal and third-bottom Leicester City.
Chelsea are now 1/100 with British bookmakers to win the title and the club’s kit manufacturer Adidas reacted to the win over United by provocatively writing on Twitter: “1-0 to the Champions.”
But when asked if Chelsea had effectively secured the title, Mourinho replied: “No, because we need eight points to be champion.
“Football is not about ‘if’, it’s not about ‘almost’ — it’s about mathematics. When mathematically it’s done, it’s done, and we celebrate.
“But until that moment, we need two victories and two draws to be champion.”
Mourinho was overstating the distance between Chelsea and a first league crown since 2010, because with Arsenal their nearest rivals — 10 points back in second place — six points from their next two games will suffice.
But he took a dim view when it was put to him that his players had looked like they were celebrating the title as they cavorted on the pitch at the final whistle.
“If the celebration is because we beat one of the biggest clubs in the world, I understand that,” he said.
“If the celebration is because the players gave everything to win that game and they feel the result of the work they did all week to prepare, I also understand that.
“If they are celebrating something more than that, not at all.”
Having won their previous six league games, United largely controlled the game, enjoying 70 percent of possession, and hit the post through Radamel Falcao in the second half.
There was also an injury-time scare for the hosts when United midfielder Ander Herrera went down under a challenge from Gary Cahill in the Chelsea box, only to be booked for diving by referee Mike Dean.
“I’m happy that was not a Chelsea player, because if it was a Chelsea player, in this moment Sky (television) would be (talking about) somebody’s ‘crimes’, would be ‘cheating’, would be ‘the champions of the team without fair play’,” Mourinho said of Herrera’s tumble.
“But because he’s a Man United player, tomorrow nobody remembers.”
United manager Louis van Gaal felt that on another day Herrera might have been awarded a penalty, while he also complained that Falcao had been fouled by John Terry in the build-up to Hazard’s goal.
“Always you are dependable on the referee,” said the Dutchman, who claimed that his team had produced their “best match of this season”.
“When he whistles, it’s a penalty; now, it is not a penalty. When he doesn’t whistle for a foul on Falcao, it’s not a foul.
“My opinion is different, but OK, it’s like that. I cannot control the referee. I think that’s also the best way, that a trainer-coach or manager cannot control the referee.”
Eleven points below Chelsea having played a game more, United’s slim title hopes have effectively been dashed, but Van Gaal felt his side’s performance augured well both for their final five fixtures and the challenges to come next season.
“We are in a process and I see my team always growing, improving every week,” he said.
“It’s amazing how we have played here when you see the statistics. It’s unbelievable the result is 1-0, but that’s football. It’s not like in other sport, but that (the result) counts.
“It’s not that we have made a big step in our process that counts, for we count that. But for the fans, they have lost and Manchester United have lost. And that’s a pity when you play so well.”