An emotional Steven Gerrard hailed Liverpool's 3-2 defeat of Manchester City as their "biggest statement" in the Premier League title race as Brendan Rodgers's team survived a second-half fightback by the visitors to move within four wins of a 19th league championship.
The Liverpool captain was almost in tears after the final whistle sounded on an enthralling spectacle at Anfield, where City recovered from two goals down before a calamitous error by their captain, Vincent Kompany, allowed Philippe Coutinho to score a 78th-minute winner. While Manuel Pellegrini claimed City gifted Liverpool a win that could prove decisive in the destination of the title, Gerrard gathered his team-mates into a huddle after the game and told them: "We have won nothing yet. Exactly the same next week [at Norwich City]. We go again."
A stunning Premier League triumph is now in Liverpool's hands, however, and Gerrard said the manner of victory demonstrated the team's ability to last the distance. One more win fromNorwich City, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Newcastle United will secure the pre-season objective of Champions League qualification. Four will secure the crown.
"It was emotional, very emotional," said Gerrard. "But we need to keep calm. There are still four big games to come but that meant so much. They got back into the game and you fear the worst at that point, but I think today we showed that we are going to go to the wire. We are going to go all the way. Nothing has been won yet but that was the biggest statement we have made so far."
Liverpool will be without the influential Jordan Henderson for the next three games after he received a straight red card for a late challenge on Samir Nasri, while Luis Suárez was fortunate to avoid a second yellow card for a dive. Pellegrini, who could be without Yaya Touré for the rest of the season due to a hamstring injury, refused to be drawn into any controversy after the game, other than claiming City were denied a penalty in the dying minutes for a handball by Martin Skrtel. "I thought the referee [Mark Clattenburg] had a good game," the City manager said.
"It was a very clear penalty but I don't want to talk about the referee. It is not fair to say we lost the game because of the referee. We should have gone on to win [at 2-2]. The team played very well, not just in the second half. At the end of the first half, we had good chances to score, but we didn't take them. Football is about mistakes too and Liverpool won the game with a mistake."
As for Clattenburg's decision not to book Suárez for diving over a Martín Demichelis challenge early in the second half, Pellegrini added: "Suárez has a special way to play and everyone knows that. Our defenders managed without any problems and the referee must decide if he dives or doesn't dive."
Liverpool were two goals ahead at the interval courtesy of the outstanding Raheem Sterling and Skrtel but City produced an impressive second-half recovery to level through David Silva plus a Glen Johnson own goal. Kompany, who was at fault when Skrtel headed home Liverpool's second, then sliced a routine clearance to Coutinho and the title was out of City's hands.
Gerrard added: "That was the longest 90 minutes I've probably ever played in. I kept flashing back to how long the clock was taking in cup finals and in big games I've played in before. It felt like the clock was going backwards in some parts of the game. I'm a little bit lost for words at the moment because that is such a big result for us. Now we've got four big cup finals left. People say that was the biggest one but I disagree, the biggest one is Norwich. Nothing is ours yet."
Touré limped off injured after only 14 minutes and Liverpool's striker Daniel Sturridge also damaged his hamstring when he was tackled by Pablo Zabaleta after refusing to release the unmarked Suárez. Sturridge's injury will be assessed in the coming days but Pellegrini said of Touré: "I think it will be difficult for him to finish playing this season."
Rodgers repeated his mantra of one game at a time afterwards, although his body language betrayed the significance of the win as he bounded on to the pitch following Coutinho's winner. "The message to the players is carry on. There is no need to change," the Liverpool manager said. "We play with no fear, we demand to dominate the ball and work hard. We don't think too far ahead. There are four games to go and a lot of points still to play for."
But he conceded Liverpool's reaction to City's comeback showed they have the mentality and togetherness required of champions. "The performance level was sensational," added Rodgers. "We scored two and maybe could have had three or four. In the second half you expect City to come back. They are a wonderful team with an outstanding manager. At 2-2 I felt they were getting energy and joy down the sides so we changed to 4-3-3 to protect the sides when we were defending and open it up when attacking.
"That gave us a bit more control back and we showed our resilience to see it through. Ten wins is an incredible achievement. Against all odds we're where we are and are still fighting.
"The group is very tight. We have fostered a real closeness and you need that if you want to challenge and win. It's about more than quality and rolling out good players. There has to be a cause and you can see that intensity. It's very strong at the minute. The only sour point is the red card. Jordan is one of the most honest players I've ever known. He is stretching and the sole of his foot actually touches the ball. I felt that was a wee bit harsh."