NORWICH, England (AP) — A first English championship in 24 years is within Liverpool's grasp after a 3-2 victory over Norwich that was inspired by Raheem Sterling's double and a 30th goal of the campaign by Luis Suarez on Sunday.
An 11th straight league win secured the Reds a return to the Champions League for the first time since the 2009-10 season but they have more lofty ambitions after moving five points clear with three matches left.
Sterling crashed home a brilliant long-range strike in the fourth minute before setting up Suarez in the 11th minute for his 12th goal against Norwich in their last five meetings.
After Gary Hooper cut the deficit in the 54th, Sterling re-established Liverpool's two-goal lead with his second that saw him intercept a pass inside his own half, weave his way through Norwich's defense before taking aim with a shot that looped over goalkeeper John Ruddy thanks to a deflection.
Robert Snodgrass' 77th-minute header set up a nervy finish but Liverpool held on to put clear distance to Chelsea, which lost 2-1 to Sunderland on Saturday, and nine points ahead of third-placed Manchester City, which has two games in hand.
If Liverpool beats Chelsea next weekend, surely it can't be stopped from capturing the title — a highly unlikely scenario given the team finished seventh last season. With that game coming at Anfield and between two legs of Chelsea's Champions League semifinal against Atletico Madrid, Liverpool will be favorite.
"The objective at the start of the season was to qualify for the Champions League — that was always going to be an incredible task but now we know we cannot finish lower than third," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said.
"We will go into the next three games looking to perform well. We want to continue to fight and now look to Chelsea next week — where it will be an incredible atmosphere at Anfield."
Sterling — named this week on the six-man shortlist for the league's young player of the year — stepped up in the absence of Daniel Sturridge, who was missing because of a hamstring injury.
Sterling put in a man-of-the-match performance that began with a superb strike from 25 yards.
Suarez's now-obligatory goal against Norwich came from a center by Sterling — making the Uruguay striker the first Liverpool player since Ian Rush in the 1986-87 season to net 30 goals in one league campaign.
Suarez is one goal shy of the record goal tally for a 38-game Premier League season, held jointly by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Norwich, which is two points above the relegation zone with three games left after this fourth straight loss, made life difficult in the second half and Hooper side-footed into an empty net after Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet fluffed an attempted punched clearance.
Sterling's individual effort had its origins in a misplaced pass by Bradley Johnson just inside the Liverpool half and it was the Norwich midfielder whose heel Sterling's left-footed shot struck, the ball looping high and over the back-pedaling Ruddy.
After Snodgrass's goal, Ricky van Wolfswinkel came closest to an equalizer with a header that Mignolet saved low to his left.
"I thought we deserved something from the game, particularly with the second-half performance," Norwich manager Neil Adams said. "The first-half performance wasn't good enough. We were playing against a top team and you can't give these types of team an inch or they will punish you."