Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City put the destination of the Premier League title firmly in their own hands, but the thrilling win did not come without cost. Jordan Henderson will miss three of the remaining four games following his late red card, while Daniel Sturridge is struggling with a hamstring injury ahead of the trip to face Norwich City on Sunday. Manager Brendan Rodgers will be hoping that the biggest expense, though, is not the emotional toll it took on his players.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted after their surprising 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland on Wednesday that his team were mentally drained from the Liverpool match. In theory it will be easier for the victors to put the match behind them, but it won’t necessarily work out that way.
The explosion of emotion that was all-too visible after the final whistle showed just how much had gone into the performance and how much the result meant to the players. Captain Steven Gerrard immediately displayed his awareness of the potential pitfalls of such jubilation, despite nothing yet being won, by demanding his teammates not throw their opportunity away. Rodgers has a massive job to ensure they heed that warning at Carrow Road in a match that won’t have a fraction of the same heightened atmosphere and anticipation as was present at Anfield a week earlier. But with psychologist Dr. Steve Peters given a key role by the astute Rodgers, Liverpool would appear to have the tools in place to prevent a potentially disastrous let down.
Still, it appears that Liverpool will have to go in search of three of the 10 points needed for the title without a man who has 20 Premier League goals to his name this season.
“He may struggle for the weekend,” Rodgers said of Sturridge on Thursday, according to Liverpool’s official website. "It's not too serious and won't keep him out for too many weeks, but he may be out for the weekend.
"We'll assess it more over the next couple of days, but that's how we're looking at it at the moment. He may well make a real good recovery over the next few days and be ready for the weekend.”
Liverpool have been able to rely on a remarkably small pool of players in their run of 10 straight league wins. But, with Henderson’s suspension, the unavailability of Sturridge would likely mean the need to call on either Victor Moses or Iago Aspas. Neither has shone this season and, while the Spaniard has not started a match since New Year’s Day, the last time Moses was named in the starting lineup in the league was a month earlier when Liverpool recorded their worst result of the season with a 3-1 reversal at Hull City.
Yet it may well not matter who replaces Sturridge in the lineup as long as Luis Suarez is leading the line. The man who surely renders the other PFA Player of the Year award nominees irrelevant has tormented Norwich more than any other team during his time in England. In his last four matches against the East Anglian club, Suarez has hit an incredible 11 goals, including three hat-tricks. When the sides met at Anfield earlier in the season, the Uruguayan took the breath away with a four goals of incredible quality.
On that day the Norwich defenders, haunted by past experiences, appeared fearful every time Suarez got the ball. Such trepidation is again likely to be present on Sunday and gives both Suarez and Liverpool a huge advantage before a ball has even been kicked.
Of course, Norwich will have every bit as much to play for as their opponents. Sitting just two points above the relegation zone and with matches to come away at Manchester United and Chelsea as well as Arsenal at home after the clash with Liverpool, Norwich are in major trouble.
Arguably their problems have not been helped by just doing enough throughout the season to remain out of deep peril. It meant that Chris Hughton was kept in his job, despite the football being served up being utterly dismal. The Norwich board finally bit the bullet and made a change two weeks ago but it may prove to be too late. Youth team boss Neil Adams was promoted into the senior job but can hardly be expected to make a huge impact with such little time.
There were none the less signs of improvement against the side immediately below them, Fulham, last week. Yet their season-long struggles to put the ball in the back of the net cost them dearly in a 1-0 defeat that may prove fatal to their Premier League life. Ultimately, even an eternally optimistic Norwich supporter will struggle to believe that their team can outscore Suarez and Liverpool.
Prediction: Norwich 1-3 Liverpool
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 7 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.