Liverpool took a giant step toward their first title in 24 years with a 3-2 win at a plucky Norwich City yesterday, opening up a five point lead over second-placed Chelsea with three matches remaining.
Two goals to Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez’s 30th league strike of the season helped them to their 11th consecutive Premier League victory and ensured them a top four finish and qualification for next season’s Champions League, the first time they have reached Europe’s elite club competition since 2009-2010.
They moved to 80 points, five ahead of Chelsea, who suffered a shock 2-1 defeat by last-placed Sunderland on Saturday, while third-placed Manchester City, on 71 points and with two matches in hand, play West Bromwich Albion today.
Norwich failed to roll over for their higher placed opponents. After Gary Hooper had scored for Norwich early in the second half, Robert Snodgrass’s 77th minute goal ensured a nervy finish for the visitors, who had appeared to be heading for a comfortable win at 3-1 up.
The loss keeps Norwich mired in the relegation battle in 17th place, two points above Cardiff City and Fulham and three ahead of Sunderland.
Liverpool have not finished top since 1990, two years before the Premier League began, and they can put themselves on the brink of ending that drought when they meet Chelsea at Anfield next Sunday.
Also on Sunday, Hull City and Arsenal meet in a FA Cup final dress-rehearsal, while David Moyes returns to Everton with new club Manchester United.
Sunderland condemned Chelsea to their first home Premier League defeat under Jose Mourinho with a stunning 2-1 victory on Saturday.
Chelsea had been bidding to take over from Liverpool at the summit.
Samuel Eto’o put Chelsea ahead after only 12 minutes, but Sunderland equalized quickly through Connor Wickham and claimed victory thanks to an 82nd-minute penalty from on-loan Liverpool striker Fabio Borini.
Having held third-placed Manchester City to a 2-2 draw in midweek, Sunderland have emerged as this season’s kingmakers, and victory at Stamford Bridge gave their chances of avoiding relegation a sizeable boost.
Gus Poyet’s side, who had previously gone nine games without a win, finished the day three points from safety and also have a game in hand to play.
Chelsea took the lead in the 12th minute, Eto’o volleying in from Willian’s left-wing corner, but it took Sunderland only six minutes to draw level.
Mark Schwarzer, deputising in goal for Chelsea in place of the unwell Petr Cech, spilled a long-range shot from Marcos Alonso and Wickham — who claimed a brace at City — pounced to clip home the rebound.
Chelsea’s response was not slow in coming and visiting goalkeeper Vito Mannone had to produce smart saves to thwart Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic,
Mohamed Salah and Willian before halftime.
Chelsea’s frustrations told when Ramires lashed out at Sebastian Larsson with his arm, catching the Sunderland midfielder in the face, but Dean appeared not to see the incident.
The Chelsea onslaught continued in the second half, with Eto’o curling just wide and substitute Demba Ba miscuing from Willian’s cut-back, but the goal would not come and there was worse to follow.
In the 81st minute, Cesar Azpilicueta was penalized for sliding in on Jozy Altidore and Borini, a former Chelsea striker, calmly beat Schwarzer from the spot.