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Liverpool five points clear in English Premier League after beating Norwich 3-2 on Sunday
Raheem Sterling scores twice and sets up Luis Suarez's 30th league goal this season
Manager Brendan Rodgers says team drew inspiration from Hillsborough memorial
Arsenal and Everton, who both win, are battling for fourth place with three games to play
The writing was on the wall for Liverpool.
Some 25 years after the stadium disaster that cost the lives of 96 supporters, the club is marching towards its first English title since the season immediately following that tragedy at Hillsborough.
The team’s players could understandably be nervous about the prospect of ending such a long wait for Liverpool’s next championship – its 19th overall and first since the advent of the Premier League.
But, after title rival Chelsea stumbled on Saturday, Brendan Rodgers’ side showed no such anxiety in dispatching struggling Norwich 3-2 to move five points clear at the top of the table.
And the manager said his charges had drawn inspiration from the speech by the leader of the Hillsborough Support Group, Margaret Aspinall, who spoke at Tuesday’s memorial service for the victims and survivors of the 1989 stadium crush.
“I used some words of Margaret Aspinall – we put them up on the wall,” the Northern Irishman told Liverpool’s website after Sunday’s away win, the team’s 11th in a row.
“She talked about stress and how it can prove difficult for you, but it can also offer you great determination to fight.
“Those were the words that we gave the players before the game today. This is a club that is one club at this moment in time, and we’re all fighting to achieve the ultimate goal.”
The victory sets the scene for next Sunday’s visit by Chelsea to Anfield, and puts more pressure on third-placed Manchester City to win against another team battling to avoid relegation – West Brom – on Monday.
Liverpool and Chelsea have three games left, while 2012 champion City has five – but is nine points off the lead.
“In the changing room before they go out, we just remind them to go and lose themselves, just focus on the ball and focus on the team,” said Rodgers, whose team is now guaranteed a place in the European Champions League for the first time since 2010.
“If you can do that, then we can be a real force. You saw all the characteristics of our team – wonderful invention, creativity, arrogance on the ball, young players and senior players all playing in a structure that allows them to express themselves.
“And they had to show the courage to dig in and fight, away from home against a team that’s fighting for their life to stay in the division. It’s going to be a brilliant game next weekend. The supporters will be right up for it, as will the team.”
Liverpool took a 2-0 lead inside 11 minutes through young winger Raheem Sterling, with a long-range effort, and top scorer Luis Suarez – who became the first player to net 30 times in the league for the club since Ian Rush in 1987.
The Uruguay striker is now just one short of the Premier League record for a 38-game season, held by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Norwich, just two points above the relegation zone, hit back through striker Gary Hooper following the halftime break but England World Cup hopeful Sterling restored Liverpool’s advantage just after an hour before Robert Snodgrass’ header set up a tense finish.
“He is the best young player in European football at the moment,” Rodgers said of Sterling, who set up Suarez’s 12th goal in five games against Norwich.
“At 19 years of age you don’t see anyone better. His intelligence with the ball, his movement and he’s scoring goals. His first goal was a wonderful strike. He’s just shifted it, got his shot off; to beat a goalkeeper of John Ruddy’s quality shows you the quality of the strike.
“His pass for Luis’ goal was like a top midfield player, so there’s an assist, and his position for the counter attack when he broke away and obviously gets a bit of luck on the deflection – but his overall performance, he’s shown so much maturity.”
Arsenal’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League for the 15th successive season remain in the London club’s own hands after Sunday’s 3-0 win at 14th-placed Hull.
Germany forward Lukas Podolski followed up his midweek double in the 3-1 victory at home to West Ham by scoring twice more following Aaron Ramsey’s opener – the Wales midfielder’s ninth in the league this season and first since this month’s return from long-term injury.
Everton closed to within a point of fourth-placed Arsenal by beating Manchester United 2-0 in Sunday’s later game – billed as a clash between managers Roberto Martinez and David Moyes.
It was a bitter blow for former Everton boss Moyes, who has had a miserable first season with defending champion United – and now knows that next season the club will not be playing in the Champions League.
A penalty from Leighton Baines and another goal from striker Kevin Mirallas before halftime left United 13 points behind Arsenal.
Read: The tragedy that united a city