Liverpool maintain title push, but Rodgers backs Man City
Sturridge strike means he and Suarez are first strike pair to score 20 each for 50 years
Liverpool 2 Sunderland 1. Goals from Steve Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge handed Liverpool their seventh consecutive league victory and moved them into second place behind leaders Chelsea. The Blues now lead the Reds by just a point at the top of the table with Manchester City's Sky Blues in third, but with two games in hand. Arsenal's recent collapse has ruled them out of the title race, so it is now a three-horse race for the title as the season enters the home straight.
The title is likely to be decided by the outcome of two massive fixtures next month, as Liverpool host Manchester City on 13 April and then Chelsea a fortnight later. Victories for the Reds in those two encounters would probably hand them their first league crown since 1990, but for the moment manager Brendan Rodgers believes Manchester City are favourites because they have two games on hands on their rivals. "If City win their games, they win. It's simple maths," said Rodgers.
Asked if he was indulging in a bit of kid psychology in not talking up his own team a bit more, the Northern Irishman said: "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. Manchester City have games in hand and the squad to win the title and the Champions League."
Gerrard put Liverpool ahead at Anfield with a free-kick on 39 minutes and three minutes after the break Sturridge doubled their advantage with his 20th league goal of the season. The England forward's strike means that he and Luis Suarez are the first Liverpool strike partnership in half a century to each score 20 league goals in a season, a feat last achieved by the legendary duo of Ian St John and Roger Hunt. "It is a great achievement for the team," said Rodgers. "Suarez and Sturridge are soloists, individuals, that fit into the collective picture. They are top-class talents."
Though Ki Sung-Yueng's header fourteen minutes from time pulled a goal back for the Black Cats and caused Liverpool fans a few anxious minutes in the dying stages, the defeat leaves Sunderland mired in the relegation zone with only seven games remaining to avoid the drop. "The feeling of seeing this crowd quiet at the end and then really excited when they celebrated at the end shows it was not an easy day for Liverpool," reflected manger Gus Poyet, who said his team had played with the sort of spirit that they must show for the rest of the season. "We need to feel all right after tonight because not many people were expecting that."
Liverpool, meanwhile, face Tottenham at Anfield on Sunday and Rodgers' toughest challenge in the coming days and weeks will be to keep everyone's feet on the ground as the excitement mounts on Merseyside. "We have had a wonderful season until now, but there is still a way to go and the message to the supporters is to keep believing. We have to keep calm under pressure."