Liverpool visit Norwich City this weekend, determined to maintain focus on the task in hand despite growing national excitement about their bid to be crowned Premier League champions.
Last weekend’s pulsating 3-2 defeat of title rivals Manchester City left Brendan Rodgers’s side two points above Chelsea at the summit and needing four wins to guarantee a first league title since 1990.
It was Liverpool’s 10th successive win and the thrilling nature of their late-season burst, coupled with the emotion generated by the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, has seen them cast as the neutrals’ favorites.
While a potential title decider at home to Chelsea awaits on April 27, the first obstacle that Steven Gerrard and his team-mates must overcome is Sunday’s trip to Carrow Road.
Following the win over City, Gerrard was emphatic in his insistence that Liverpool must not underestimate Norwich, but their recent record against Paul Lambert’s men augurs well.
Liverpool have scored 18 times in the last four meetings between the teams, with Luis Suarez helping himself to four goals in a 5-1 win when the teams last met in December.
Norwich are in desperate need of points, however, as they are only two points above the relegation places and play Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal in their final three fixtures.
While Suarez is aware of the clamor to see Liverpool return to the summit of the English game after 24 years, he says that his team-mates cannot afford to be distracted by speculation about the destination of the title.
“It’s normal for the supporters to get excited and be discussing our chances,” he told the Liverpool website.
“When I’m out shopping or out with my family, I bump into fans who mention it to me. I’ve told them to stay calm and not to worry. We’ll be trying our best.
“For the players it’s probably best if we don’t get involved in that kind of talk. Winning the title would be very special, but we can’t think about that yet. For us it’s always about the next game.”
Chelsea have an opportunity to emphasize just how far Liverpool still have to go as they can move to the top of the table with victory at home to bottom club Sunderland on Saturday.
After two defeats in three games, Chelsea have got back on track with successive wins over Stoke City and Swansea City, but they will be wary of a team who held Manchester City to a shock 2-2 draw on Wednesday.
City, who now trail Liverpool by six points but retain a game in hand, host fifth-bottom West Bromwich Albion in the Monday night game.
Like City, Everton suffered a mid-week setback when they lost 3-2 at home to Crystal Palace, which enabled Arsenal to preserve their hold on fourth place, one point above Roberto Martinez’s side.
Arsenal visit Hull City on Sunday in a dress rehearsal for next month’s FA Cup final, with Everton welcoming Manchester United to Goodison Park later the same day.
United’s own Champions League hopes have been all but extinguished as they lie 10 points below the top four, but manager David Moyes will be desperate to avoid embarrassment on his return to his former club.
“We’ve not lost so many games in the last months, so there is no reason for us to feel deflated,” said Everton left-back Leighton Baines.
“We were on a run of good wins. To lose one game doesn’t take anything away from the way we’ve been playing and we’ve just got to get back on track as quickly as possible.”
At the other end of the table, third-bottom Fulham can provisionally climb out of the relegation zone at Norwich’s expense if they win at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
“I think we have very important games at the moment and if it works like the last two, it will be OK,” said Fulham manager Felix Magath, whose side have won their last two matches.
“Everybody has a chance. We can go to Tottenham and try to win.”