LONDON (Reuters) - Liverpool’s dream of a first title in 24 years moved closer to reality after a 3-2 win at lowly Norwich City on Sunday opened up a five-point lead over second-placed Chelsea with three matches remaining.
Arsenal beat Hull City 3-0 in a dress-rehearsal for next month’s FA Cup final to stay one point ahead of Everton, who beat Manchester United 2-0 on David Moyes’s return to Goodison Park, in the race for fourth spot.
Two Raheem Sterling goals and Luis Suarez’s 30th league strike of the season helped Liverpool to their 11th consecutive Premier League victory and confirmed their place in the Champions League next season.
They moved to 80 points, five ahead of Chelsea who suffered a shock 2-1 defeat by bottom club Sunderland on Saturday. Third-placed Manchester City, on 71 points and with two matches in hand, play West Bromwich Albion on Monday.
Liverpool have not won the title since 1990, two years before the Premier League began, and can move to the brink of ending that drought when they meet Chelsea at Anfield next Sunday.
“At the beginning of the season, I think everyone thought it would be a struggle for us to even get to fourth,” manager Brendan Rodgers told reporters.
“It shows the magnitude of the effort the players have put in to have at least guaranteed that at this stage and have Champions League football at Anfield again next season.”
Sterling put the Reds ahead after four minutes when he received the ball from Suarez, shifted right and unleashed a shot from outside the box that grazed Michael Turner, giving John Ruddy no chance.
He turned provider for the second on 11 minutes when he sent in a low cross and Suarez placed the ball inside the far post to become the first Liverpool player since Ian Rush in 1986-87 to score 30 league goals in a season.
Norwich pulled one back after the break through Gary Hooper, but Sterling restored Liverpool’s buffer with another deflected effort before Robert Snodgrass ensured a nervous last 13 minutes with a second for the hosts.
After a sluggish start Arsenal gradually imposed themselves on Hull, taking the lead after a neat passing move involving Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla allowed Ramsey to steer the ball home after 30 minutes, his first goal since November having missed three months through injury.
Podolski doubled Arsenal’s lead on 45 minutes, volleying in after Ramsey’s chested layoff from Olivier Giroud’s cross and the German scored his fifth in as many matches after the break, following up after Steve Harper had blocked Ramsey’s effort.
“We knew we had to win today and we had that kind of pressure,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.
“But I think you could already see that against West Ham there is something better in our game and today there was much more oil in the engine again.”
Arsenal stayed one clear of Everton, who ensured Moyes suffered an unhappy return to the club he managed for 11 years, with defeat also confirming seventh-placed United cannot qualify for the Champions League.
Everton were awarded a penalty when Phil Jones put his arm in the way of Romelu Lukaku’s thunderous shot and Leighton Baines drilled the penalty down the middle on 28 minutes.
Kevin Mirallas doubled the lead just before the break, finishing from a tight angle.
“It was more than pleasing,” Everton manager Roberto Martinez told Sky Sports.
“It was an outstanding result and the first time we have done the double over Manchester United since 1969. I couldn’t be prouder.”
United failed to muster a shot on goal in the first half, a fact acknowledged by Moyes, who was not asked in a television interview about his return to Goodison.
“We gave away two terrible goals,” he said.
“Prior to that we passed the ball extremely well and controlled the game. We didn’t create enough chances. We had great control and then gave it away.”
Editing by Ed Osmond