With a first title in 24 years close enough to touch Liverpool were undone by old nemesis Jose Mourinho, whose Chelsea side inflicted a potentially mortal blow with a 2-0 win at Anfield on Sunday.
Chelsea’s victory might have come too late for Mourinho’s side to win the Premier League title, but it flung the door wide open for Manchester City, who took full advantage with a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace.
In the latest twist of a fascinating Premier League season, under-strength Chelsea cut the gap at the top to two points with two games remaining, although City are only three points behind with a game in hand and a healthier goal-difference.
Should Liverpool and City both win their remaining games, City would almost certainly grab the title on goal-difference just as they did two seasons ago, although if both drop points Chelsea could sneak through on the rails.
Victory on Sunday was Mourinho’s seventh win in nine Premier League matches against Liverpool and completed the double over Brendan Rodgers’ side this season — ending their 11-match winning streak that has propelled them toward the Premier League title.
Demba Ba, capitalizing on a calamitous slip by Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, and Willian did the damage for a weakened Chelsea side, but despite Mourinho’s tactical triumph he immediately ruled his team out of contention for the title.
“We are Champions League for sure,” Mourinho shrugged.
“We need one point to finish third ... the champions, whether it is Liverpool or Man City, we can say we won both matches against them. Forget the title, forget it,” he said.
City’s supporters at Selhurst Park cheered news of Liverpool’s defeat and had further cause for celebration as Yaya Toure, returning from injury, made the first goal for Edin Dzeko with a perfect cross.
Toure scored the second, his 19th in the league this season, before halftime after a fine run from halfway.
While City are now masters of their own destiny, coach Manuel Pellegrini was refusing to get carried away.
“The only thing that is different is that we are not depending on other teams, and what matters is only what we do between now and the end of the season,” the cautious City coach told the club’s Web site. “I was obviously very happy with Chelsea’s win, but this is far from the end of the title race because all three teams have very hard games still to play.”
Chelsea have beaten both City and Liverpool home and away, and despite missing five leading players through injury and suspension, Mourinho rested others ahead of tomorrow’s UEFA Champions League semi-final, second leg against Atletico Madrid.
On paper it seemed the perfect scenario for Liverpool to knock Chelsea out of the title equation, but with the league’s leading scorer Luis Suarez failing to fire they looked crestfallen as their winning run ended limply.
Rodgers, who once worked under Mourinho at Chelsea, accused his former club of playing defensively and having “two buses parked” in front of their goal, but his side failed to make enough chances.
“Congratulations to Chelsea for getting the result, but my team is a team that wants to be offensive, win games by playing good football, to be creative,” Rodgers said.
“Chelsea played with a back six and just hit long balls up to Demba Ba, but the players gave everything,” he said.