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Six reasons why Liverpool stand on the brink of winning the title
LIVERPOOL need seven points from their final three matches to be guaranteed their first league title since 1990. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson highlights six reasons why Brendan Rodgers' side are standing on the brink of a triumph few anticipated at the start of the season
Luis Suarez leads the Premier League top scorer table with 30 goals for Liverpool so far this season, with team-mate Daniel Sturrige in second place with 20
No side that wins the title can be accused of being a one-man team, but most have one player that elevates them above their rivals, and Suarez has been head and shoulders above anyone else in the Premier League this season.
The Uruguayan's goal at Norwich at the weekend was his 30th in the league this season, a remarkable tally given that he missed the first six games as he was completing a suspension carried over from last term.
He has been all-but-unplayable for most of the campaign, and will surely be a deserved winner of the Player of the Year award despite his previous disciplinary issues.
They appear to have been largely eradicated, and it is not just Suarez's goals that have made him such a potent force over the last nine months.
His movement, awareness and work rate make him the ideal partner for Daniel Sturridge, and in an era where strike partnerships are somewhat out of vogue, Liverpool have assembled one of the best the club has ever fielded.
AN ATTACKING ETHOS
If, as now looks likely, Liverpool win the title, it will have been quite a while since a side with such an unfettered attacking outlook has swept all before it in the top-flight.
Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United sides featured some exciting forward lines, but they were always accompanied by a solid defence. Jose Mourinho's Chelsea prided themselves on being impossible to break down, while the Manchester City team that triumphed two years ago was based on power and athleticism rather than all-out attack.
Liverpool are different. Their defence has actually been somewhat shaky all season, but that hasn't mattered because they have been so devastatingly effective at the other end.
With two deep-lying midfielders providing cover, there are always four players in the Liverpool team with a licence for all-out attack, and even in the biggest games, Rodgers has resisted the temptation to reel his attacking midfielders in.
Liverpool have scored three or more goals in 20 of their Premier League matches this season – no wonder, then, that they have proved so hard to beat.
AN ABUNDANCE OF PACE
The main asset that sets Liverpool apart from their title rivals is pace, especially in the attacking third of the field.
Daniel Sturridge is one of the quickest strikers in the Premier League, Suarez's turn of pace from a standing start is astonishing, and Raheem Sterling, who has become increasingly influential in the last couple of months, is all-but-uncatchable once he gets ahead of an opponent.
With Philippe Coutinho no slouch either, Liverpool are able to turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye and engulf an opposition defence as their forwards sprint into the area.
Interestingly, the Reds have delivered fewer crosses than any other team in the league. But they have scored twice as many goals from fast breaks as any other side and are set to break the 100-goal mark for the season.
“I'm a big lover of speed,” said Rodgers at the weekend. “Whether the speed of the ball or the speed of the brain.”
STEVEN GERRARD'S NEW ROLE
Prior to Rodgers' arrival, it had appeared as though Gerrard's influence was on the wane. No longer able to make as many lung-bursting breaks into the area as he once was, it looked like the 33-year-old would be increasingly consigned to substitute duties, in the manner of Frank Lampard at Chelsea.
However, Rodgers saw something in Gerrard's play to convince him to play the England skipper in a much deeper role, enabling him to act as the fulcrum for so much of Liverpool's play. The result has been a revelation.
Gerrard has had one of the best seasons of his career, launching attacking moves with a series of pinpoint long balls and linking his side's passing play with poise and assurance.
Crucially, he has also proved adept at the more defensive side of the game, and while Liverpool have occasionally leaked goals, they have never been overrun by an opposition midfield.
Gerrard's reboot has been so successful that Roy Hodgson is almost certain to use him in a similar role during this summer's World Cup in Brazil. The country can only hope that he is equally as effective in an England shirt.
THE FAILINGS OF THEIR RIVALS
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini kicks a ball during his side's draw with strugglers Sunderland
While Liverpool will be utterly deserving champions if they finish the season with 14 straight wins, the weaknesses of their leading rivals will also have played a significant role in their victory.
Manchester United's defence of their title was a shambles from the start, and while plenty predicted some teething troubles in the wake of Ferguson's departure, few would have expected life at Old Trafford to have been as calamitous as it has been under David Moyes.
Arsenal flattered to deceive before suffering their usual post-Christmas slump, but it has been the recent failings of Chelsea and Manchester City that have really opened the door for Liverpool.
Chelsea desperately need a striker, and Jose Mourinho's decision to loan Romelu Lukaku to Everton last summer looks even more misguided now than it did at the time.
Manchester City have the biggest and best squad in the Premier League, but it has rarely added up to the sum of its parts and, as a result, Manuel Pellegrini's first season at the Etihad Stadium has to be regarded as a failure.
A LACK OF EUROPEAN FOOTBALL
At an early stage of the title race, Mourinho flagged up Liverpool's lack of European competition as a key factor in their favour. At the time, his comment were written off as mind games. Now, his words looks prophetic in the extreme.
While Chelsea and Manchester City have hit something of a brick wall in recent weeks, Liverpool have produced their best spell of the season at the business end of the campaign.
Their key players look fit and refreshed, and they have suffered far fewer injuries than most of their rivals. Why? Because they have played far fewer matches.
Liverpool's final Premier League game against Newcastle will be their 43rd of the campaign in all competitions. Chelsea, on the other hand, will be playing their 57th when they take on Cardiff, and the tally will rise to 58 if they make the Champions League final.
Manchester City will finish having played 56 matches, a massive difference when so many crucial games are concertinaed into a decisive two-month spell in March and April.
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