Brendan Rodgers says Manchester City's slip is warning for Liverpool title hopes
Brendan Rodgers has argued that Manchester City's inability to overcome Sunderland and Everton's shock defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace on Wednesday were stark warnings for those who believe Liverpool only have to beat Chelsea to win the title.
Their games against Norwich City, Palace and Newcastle United were, the Liverpool manager said, as likely to produce a crucial slip as defeat in the showdown with Jose Mourinho's side.
"The big games are the easy ones," he said. "You ought to focus on the others. We coped with games against Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham. The focus is now on Norwich."
Of Liverpool's four remaining fixtures, Sunday's at Carrow Road appears the simplest, even though Liverpool are likely to be missing striker Daniel Sturridge, who is carrying a hamstring injury.
Luis Suarez alone has found the net 11 times against Norwich in his last four games against them. And yet Manchester City were unable to score at Carrow Road this season, a failure that seems much more expensive now than it did in February.
What cost Manchester United the title in 2012 was a 1-0 defeat in mid-April at Wigan, a team against whom they had never dropped a Premier League point. Rodgers was at Goodison Park on Wednesday to watch Everton fall at the first and easiest hurdle of their five remaining fixtures and hand Arsenal the initiative in the race for the fourth and final Champions League place.
"We are into the final block of games and I said to the players before training that if there was any delight at one of our rivals dropping points, they should take it as a warning sign," said Rodgers.
"When you are so close to the finish line, maybe you think the job can be done and you look at the fixture list that says you are playing teams near the bottom.
"But it is the contrast that makes it more difficult," he added. "People are fighting for their livelihoods, for their children, for their supporters and to stay in the best league in the world. That's the nuts and bolts of it."
Asked if City's failure to beat Sunderland, who are not only bottom of the Premier League but have not won a top-flight game in Manchester since 1981, meant everything was now falling into place for Liverpool, Rodgers retorted: "Nothing falls into place for you – you have to make it happen. That was a warning that with four games to go nothing is guaranteed."
Rodgers appeared less concerned about the forthcoming encounter with Chelsea on 27 April, which will be the biggest single fixture Anfield has staged since Arsenal came to Merseyside in May 1989 needing to beat Liverpool by two clear goals to win the championship.
Manchester City may have put some second-half pressure on Liverpool last Sunday but Rodgers witheringly suggested that a team which had a wage bill of more than £100m might be expected to exert some control over the course of an hour and a half.
"Look at our performance against Manchester City," he said. "For the first 45 minutes we were unplayable. In other parts of the game we showed our focus and our resilience.
"There were 20 minutes against City when we had to stand up and be counted but when you have the biggest wage bill in sport you do have to perform at some stage of the game. Then we came back and showed what great teams do – resilience and quality."
Rodgers suggested he would resist the temptation to risk Sturridge's hamstring in Norfolk. It says everything for the striker's form that he has failed to find the net in Liverpool's last three games, which represents the longest "drought" of a season that has brought him 20 goals.
It is imperative for Liverpool that Sturridge be fit to face his former club, Chelsea, and whatever he says about the dangers of underestimating struggling teams, Rodgers should have sufficient firepower to deal with Norwich.
Suarez alone might be enough.
Belfast Telegraph Digital