Liverpool maintained their Premier League title challenge with a nervy 2-1 victory at home to relegation-strugglers Sunderland on Wednesday evening at Anfield.
Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge scored in either half for the Reds, who won their seventh straight league game and moved up to second place on 68 points, one behind leaders Chelsea with seven games to play.
Though the scoreline didn't precisely mirror Liverpool's dominant performances of late, the result will allow Liverpool to keep dreaming of a first league title since 1990. Having scored 16 times in their previous four league matches, the Reds have surged into the thick of the title race with an almost unstoppable offence that's been good enough to mask most of the team's defensive frailties.
In addition to closing the gap on Chelsea, Wednesday's result saw Liverpool improve their goal differential to plus-45, six better than the league-leading Blues. But Brendan Rodgers' side must also worry about the challenge of Manchester City—who are two points further behind Liverpool but have two games in hand.
Both teams still have to visit Anfield, with City making the trip on April 13 and Chelsea following two weeks later. The Reds lost both return fixtures, 2-1, but with two victories on home soil—where Liverpool have now collected 40 of 45 available points this season—the Reds could well become title favourites.
Even so, Rodgers used his post-match comments to play down his team's title chances—even while denying that he was doing any such thing. Speaking to PremierLeague.com, Rodgers said:
We are clearly a team that is improving. We are second which is great but it's up to other teams to lose. So we will keep working hard.
I'm not playing it down, I don't play silly mind games, I'm concentrating on my team and Jose Mourinho is saying what I'm saying. If Manchester City win all their games they win the league. It's simple maths.
Considering their recent record, Liverpool must have been surprised to find themselves without a goal for much of the first half. But after soaking up pressure well for almost 40 minutes, Sunderland were undone by a Gerrard free kick just before the interval.
With both Gerrard and Luis Suarez lining up to take a free kick along the edge of Sunderland's box, Black Cats goalkeeper Vito Mannone took a step to his right just before Gerrard took his shot. The slight hesitation was more than enough of an invitation for the Liverpool skipper, who curled into the net for his fifth goal in six games across all competitions.
Leading 1-0 at half-time, Liverpool doubled their lead early in the second half through Sturridge. Picking up the ball on the edge of the area in the 48th minute, Sturridge curled a shot—deflected off Wes Brown's knee—into the top corner.
The home side protested for a penalty moments later as Luis Suarez went to the ground under pressure from Lee Cattermole. But referee Kevin Friend waved play on and replays showed that while there was contact, it was made outside the box.
Liverpool came close again in the 54th minute, when Suarez inadvertently stepped in the way of a shot by Sturridge. But after taking possession inside the box, Suarez created a chance for himself before forcing a save from Mannone low at the near post.
Sunderland nearly found the scoresheet in the 71st minute as Cattermole hit the crossbar with a volley. One minute later, Sturridge hit the woodwork as well, as Liverpool tried to put the game away.
Instead, Sunderland grabbed a lifeline via a 76th-minute corner. Adam Johnson curled the ball in from the right and Ki, having slipped past Jon Flanagan, stooped to head in to make it 2-1 and set up a tense finale.
The visitors had their chance to equalise in the 89th minute, when Johnson picked out an unmarked John O'Shea with a free kick from a deep position on the left. But O'Shea managed to flick his header well off target and Liverpool survived to collect the full three points.
|Liverpool Player Ratings vs. Sunderland|
|Raheem Sterling (for Sturridge, 77')||N/A||7|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
Liverpool continue their Premier League title quest with a match at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
Sunderland host West Ham United on Monday.