LIVERPOOL 3 MANCHESTER CITY 2
LIVERPOOL manager Brendan Rodgers insists his team can handle the pressure of being new Premier League favourites after they underlined their title credentials with a watershed triumph over rivals Manchester City yesterday.
Philippe Coutinho struck a 78thminute winner after City had fought back from two down, David Silva and a Glen Johnson own goal negating Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel efforts that lit up a rampant opening spell from the Reds.
A 10th successive league victory means Liverpool lead the table by two points and will be crowned champions for the first time since 1990 if they continue to plunder maximum points from the remaining four games, including at home to secondplaced Chelsea on 27 April.
"The expectancy of this club is a challenge every day. We've been put under pressure in every game we've played," said Rodgers. "But you see the level and the quality of our football - it was fantastic today - so we're clearly coping with it. It was a remarkable performance. I thought we were incredible today."
Emotional captain Steven Gerrard delivered a passionate speech to his huddled colleagues after what he called "the longest 90 minutes I've ever played", urging them to reproduce the same level in their next match. "People said that was the biggest one, but I disagree; I think the biggest one now is Norwich," he added. "Nothing is ours yet."
City still have two games in hand but now trail Liverpool by seven points, and manager Manuel Pellegrini acknowledged the Merseysiders would be deserving champions if they went on to win their last four, though he added: "It is not the end. We will continue fighting."
A highly-charged occasion lent extra poignancy by a pre-match commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster started at a furious pace, with winger Sterling scampering onto a Luis Suarez pass, stalling and then sidestepping Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart to pass into the net after six minutes.
Hart sharply tipped over a pointblank Gerrard header 20 minutes later but could not stop Skrtel's glancing effort from the resulting corner as the hosts threatened to rout City.
Kompany's header forced Sterling and then Johnson to clear off the line just before half-time, as Silva-inspired City began to rally, and within 17 minutes of the restart the visitors were level. First the Spain midfielder steered in a James Milner cut-back, and then his drilled shot beat Simon Mignolet at his near post after a cruel ricochet off Johnson.
Suddenly City looked most likely to win, and Silva was inches wide from Sergio Aguero's pass, but Liverpool snatched three points - and closed in on something approaching destiny - when Coutinho pounced on Kompany's sliced clearance and fizzed a low curler past Hart.