Chelsea ensured a third-place Premier League finish with a stunning 2-0 win over Liverpool on Sunday afternoon.
Two incisive goals on the stroke of half-time and the dead of 90 minutes opened the title race for Manchester City, who are away at Crystal Palace in the late afternoon kick-off and with four more matches left.
Selegalese striker Demba Ba scored Chelsea’s opener after captain ‘fantastic?’ Steven Gerrard’s mistake and Willian finished off a scintillating win on the road for the Blues, who now have Norwich City (h) and Cardiff City (a) in the title run-ins.
Liverpool are better still league leaders after 36 games and with 80 points but squandered a glorious opportunity to surge ahead of Man City, who are mathematically their only contender in the league title race. They now have Crystal Palace (a) and Newcastle (h) to retain their lead.
Chelsea have now completed a home and away win against both prospective league champions and would finish none less than third place, presently second eight points ahead of fourth-placed Arsenal, with two more matches left.
For the eighth time this season, Brendan Rodgers named an unchanged side for the crucial game, while his Portuguese counterpart, who has been accused of playing mind games this season, gave 20-year-old Czech defender Tomas Kalas his league debut while the Mohammad Slah and Nemanja Matic, both ineligible for Wednesday’s Champions League last-4 return leg at home to Atletico Madrid, started at Anfield.
Many pundits have said Liverpool are tiring out in the race for a first title in 24 years, however, the ‘Kops’got off to a fast start.
The ‘Blues’ were continuously accused of dampening Liverpool’s early momentum by employing a not-so-favoured but effective time wasting tactic, but Ashley Cole’s was the first to get Simon Mignolet into the thick of action with an effort from 25 yards.
Defender Mamadou Sakho blazed an early Liverpool chance over, from Luis Suarez’s assist.
Chelsea, defending deep and in numbers, allowed their hosts enjoy possession, with Raheem Sterling dazzling to the applause of the home crowd, operated on the right wing after half-an-hour; both sides in search of the breakthrough.
Gerrard unfortunately gave in to a rare Chelsea prodding and gifted Ba the ball after a corner kick. The Senegalese striker raced through on goal to slot coolly under Mignolet the opening goal. Game on Chelsea, 1-0 up at half-time.
Joe Allen came close to leveling scores 15 minutes after the restart but his tremendous volley from the edge of the area was pushed wide by 41-year-old Mark Schwarzer, standing in goal for the injured Petr Cech.
Liverpool continued pressing forward but were denied clear-cut opportunities by their visitors.
A barrage of chances came short of an equaliser as Suarez rattled a half-volley at the impressive Schwarzer in closing minutes of the encounter.
Willian dealt the Anfield faithful’s hope of recovery a final punch, scoring Chelsea’s second from substitute Fernando Torres’ slipped pass on the nick of full-time.