Shinji Kagawa Hat Trick Keeps United on Course for 20th Title

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Shinji Kagawa’s hat trick and a stunning goal from Wayne Rooney maintained Manchester United’s march to the Premier League title yesterday, while Rafa Benitez was spared a fierce backlash from Chelsea fans in the team’s 1-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion.

United moved 15 points clear at the top with a 4-0 thrashing of Norwich City at Old Trafford, with Japanese midfielder Kagawa opening the scoring just before halftime. He grabbed two more well-taken goals to become the first Asian player to score a hat trick in England’s top division.

Rooney garnished the scoreline with a long-distance screamer in injury-time as United warmed up for Tuesday’s Champions League match against Real Madrid in style. Second-place Manchester City plays Aston Villa tomorrow.

Chelsea moved into third place thanks to Demba Ba’s 28th-minute winner, giving “interim” manager Benitez some respite after his midweek tirade against the club’s fans and board that appeared to leave him in a precarious position.

The hostility among the home support was expected to be cranked up, but the atmosphere was relatively calm inside Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the serenity to secure a crucial win in its battle for a Champions League spot.

“There were a lot of positives,” Benitez said. “The reception from the crowd was quite good. I wanted everybody to stick together.”

Tottenham, which slipped to fourth, hosts fifth-place Arsenal in the north London derby today.

Last-place Queens Park Rangers boosted its survival hopes by winning 2-1 at Southampton to move three points adrift of Reading, which lost 3-1 at Everton.

Swansea’s first game since winning the League Cup final last weekend was a 1-0 victory at home to Newcastle, with Luke Moore scoring a late winner, while Sunderland came from two goals down to draw 2-2 against Fulham.

West Ham stopped its slide into relegation trouble by beating Stoke 1-0 away.

In yesterday’s late game, Liverpool thrashed Wigan 4-0, Stewart Downing opened the scoring after two minutes, with Luis Suarez grabbing a hat trick.