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Liverpool shows nerve and poise of a champion to capitalize on Chelsea slip

The Merseysiders kept their collective heads to beat Norwich and take a potentially decisive lead in the race to claim what would be their first league title in 24 years.

NORWICH, England — As all around them lose their heads, Liverpool continue to hold their nerve with the performances of champions.

The dream is edging agonizingly closer to reality for Liverpool and its supporters. Brendan Rodgers’ players came into this game knowing it was theirs to lose, but produced a performance full of grit and heart to move five points clear at the summit of the Premier League table.

TOP OF THE MATCH | RAHEEM STERLING

The best player on the pitch. Showed the great ball control that, when combined with his terrier spirit, makes him such a dangerous opponent. Scored a brilliant opener and went very close to an even better second. Bafflingly substituted.
FLOP OF THE MATCH | SIMON MIGNOLET

His vital slip caused the opening goal but he made a good block from Edin Dzeko after the break. Decent display but did cost his team with an untimely error.
This is what title races are about. The journey of twists and turns, highs and lows. At times, it felt like the Reds were comfortable here. By the end, the 2,000 Reds fans who traveled to East Anglia were taking up a collective praying position.

The resurrection of this historic club is almost complete. The Reds could even win the title next weekend if they beat title rival Chelsea and other results go their way.

In any case, the feeling is inescapable, the momentum unstoppable. Liverpool is flattening everything before it on its way to a first title in 24 years.

The club's supporters won’t appreciate the comparisons, but the inevitability resembles the way Manchester United used to thrive under Sir Alex Ferguson. It is now 11 wins in a row — three more to go. "We go again," as Steven Gerrard will no doubt be urging his troops once more.

Long after the final whistle, the traveling supporters could be heard roaring their support for the Reds. "We’re gonna win the league" — the same chant that had the Kop rocking to its foundations during the dramatic win over Manchester City by the same scoreline last weekend.

The last week has proven the utter unpredictability of the Premier League, especially toward the end of the season. Nobody could have predicted that bottom side Sunderland would draw at Manchester City before becoming the first team to beat Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge in 78 games.

How is Liverpool coping with the pressure? Better than its rivals, that’s for sure.

The Black Cats’ win in West London was the warning that Rodgers would have passed on to his players before kickoff here. It looked like it was heeded as the Reds got off to a blistering start. Raheem Sterling shimmied inside and smashed the visitors ahead from 25 yards out in the fourth minute and seven minutes later the game looked as good as over when the winger teed up Luis Suarez for the second.

Suarez has now scored 30 league goals this season in as many appearances. He has been the difference in turning Liverpool into a true title contender and has embodied Liverpool’s play with his wonderful attacking movement and total desire to win.

But Norwich fought back bravely. Gary Hooper and Robert Snodgrass scored goals to get the hosts back in the game either side of Sterling’s second strike of the afternoon, which looped in off Bradley Johnson following a mazy dribble.

It was nerve-jangling in the extreme in the final minutes as the Canaries slung balls into the Liverpool box, with goalkeeper John Ruddy coming up for the final set piece of the game.

By then, the Reds were playing with five in the back and time felt like it stood still for their players as they headed the ball away, smashing it to safety at every opportunity. It was a far cry from the champagne soccer of the first 20 minutes but no less important.

While Chelsea and City choke, it’s hard to see Liverpool dropping more points. It can even afford a draw next week against Jose Mourinho’s men, knowing it will still be the champion if the club wins its final two fixtures against Crystal Palace and Newcastle.

For most of the season the Reds have been exhilarating in their quick attacking transitions and counterattacking soccer, while their unconvincing defending — on display again today — has ensured some thrilling fixtures to capture the imagination of the neutral.

Rodgers will hope for a more mundane spectacle against Chelsea at Anfield next weekend. He probably won’t get it — but he should be confident that his Liverpool team has the mentality of a champion.

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