By Peter Hall
Leeds - Leeds United edged closer to Premier League relegation after goals from Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and Romelu Lukaku earned Chelsea a comfortable 3-0 victory over the 10-man hosts on Wednesday.
The fixture was important for both teams, with Chelsea needing five more points to be sure of a top-four finish prior to their trip north, while Leeds' top-flight status remains in the balance.
The hosts, however, could not have got off to a worse start as Mount fired Chelsea in front inside four minutes, before a reckless challenge from Dan James saw him sent off 20 minutes later, leaving Leeds with a mountain to climb.
There only looked like being one winner from that moment on, with Chelsea putting the game to bed in the 54th minute as American forward Pulisic slotted home from the edge of the area, before Lukaku hammered in a late third to seal victory.
A third successive league loss for Leeds means they stay in the bottom three on 34 points from 36 matches, level with 17th-placed Burnley, who have a game in hand, making Sunday's clash with Brighton & Hove Albion pivotal for Jesse Marsch's side.
Chelsea's first win in four league games moved Thomas Tuchel's third-placed team onto 70 points from 36 matches, four clear of Arsenal in fourth, and eight clear of Tottenham Hotspur in fifth.
"We talked about keeping it 0-0 as long as possible but I thought we were aggressive and the game still was there for us at 0-1 - the red card changes the match," Marsch said.
"The guys are gutted because we are not giving ourselves the chance we want to. Our guys do everything they can, fight for each other, to keep ourselves in this league. We have to do everything we can to be ready for the next challenge on Sunday."
Coming into the match, Leeds had conceded 34 home league goals this season, their most in the top-flight in a single campaign since 1959-60.
Lessons had not been learned as Mount was left all alone to break the deadlock. The fourth-minute goal was the earliest Leeds have conceded in a Premier League match since December 2020.
In a moment of carelessness, James scythed Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic needlessly down on the halfway line and was handed his marching orders, meaning he will miss the rest of the season. The tackle also ended the Croatian's match.
Belgian striker Lukaku, who has endured a difficult season after joining Chelsea from Inter Milan, then went close to his third goal in his last two matches with a header that flashed just wide.
Leeds offered no attacking threat in the opening period, finishing the half without having had a shot on target, causing audible frustration from all around Elland Road after the break with more errant passing.
Chelsea went ahead 2-0 when Mount flicked the ball into Pulisic, who was left free to pick his spot.
Lukaku capitalised on more poor defending from the hosts to make it 3-0 as frustrated Leeds fans headed for the exits seven minutes from time.
"I was very happy with the level of performance overall," Tuchel said. "We were very strong when it was 11 against 11, and obviously you have an advantage after their sending off.
"But at the same time the level of focus has to stay high as Leeds will never stop fighting.
"It was necessary to change things after the run we had been on, we needed to step up. We did this as a team, we did our stuff on a much higher level than in the last few matches."
(Reporting by Peter HallEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)