Chelsea showed they can cope amid the Roman Abramovich turmoil as they won 3-1 against Norwich City just hours after their Russian owner was sanctioned by the British government, while Leeds plunged deeper into relegation trouble on Thursday.
Thomas Tuchel’s side arrived at Carrow Road rocked by the revelation that Abramovich is one of seven more oligarchs hit by fresh UK sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
All seven are described as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, with Abramovich’s UK assets frozen and tough restrictions placed on Chelsea, who are currently unable to sign new players, renew contracts or sell match tickets.
Abramovich had already announced he was willing to sell Chelsea, who won 19 major trophies in his 19-year reign.
But if Chelsea’s future is clouded in uncertainty, they remain a formidable force on the pitch and goals from Trevoh Chalobah, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz lifted the mood on the 117th anniversary of the club’s formation.
Third-placed Chelsea have won nine of their last 10 games in all competitions and sit nine points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United in the race to qualify for the Champions League via a top-four finish.
Asked about the potential impact of sanctions on his team, Tuchel said: “Everybody can be very sure that we focus on us, to keep the attitude and the mentality right on the training ground and within the team.
“So far we can trust each other and this will not change. As long as we have enough shirts and a bus to drive to the games we will be there and will compete hard.”
Chelsea’s main shirt sponsor, mobile phone company Three, had responded to the sanctions by temporarily suspending the deal and asking for its logo to be removed from the team’s shirts.
But Chelsea took to the pitch still wearing their blue home kit featuring the Three branding.
Despite the damage caused by their owner’s alleged links to Putin, Chelsea’s travelling fans were quick to salute Abramovich as they loudly chanted his name before the Blues took a third-minute lead.
Mount’s corner reached Chalobah and the defender headed into the bottom corner.
Chelsea could not have hand-picked a better opponent than bottom-of-the-table Norwich to prove they can still function.
In the 14th minute, Havertz teed up Mount in the Norwich area and the midfielder smashed a superb strike into the top corner.
Norwich’s Teemu Pukki scored a 69th-minute penalty after Chalobah blocked Pierre Lees-Melou’s cross with his arm, but Havertz bagged Chelsea’s third with a side-footed finish in stoppage time.
Leeds United meanwhile remain in severe danger of relegation after a 3-0 defeat against Aston Villa at Elland Road.
Jesse Marsch’s debut home game in charge was another let-down after defeat at Leicester last weekend in his first game since replacing Marcelo Bielsa.
Leeds have lost six successive league games and lie only two points above the relegation zone, having played two more matches than third-from-bottom Burnley.
Villa went ahead in the 22nd minute as Philippe Coutinho scored his fourth goal since joining on loan from Barcelona.
Matty Cash struck in the 65th minute and Calum Chambers wrapped up the points eight minutes later.
Newcastle moved another step closer to survival with a 2-1 win at Southampton that extended their unbeaten league run to nine games.
Southampton went in front through Stuart Armstrong in the 25th minute.
New Zealand striker Chris Wood headed Newcastle’s equaliser in the 32nd minute with his first goal since signing from Burnley in January.
Newcastle midfielder Bruno Guimaraes marked his first start since his move from Lyon with a sumptuous back-heeled finish in the 52nd minute, lifting Eddie Howe’s side eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Wolves crushed second-last Watford 4-0 with goals from Raul Jimenez, Daniel Podence and Ruben Neves, as well as a Cucho Hernandez own goal.
Bruno Lage’s side ended a run of three successive defeats to leave Watford three points from safety after a fifth loss in their last seven matches.