By Josh Reich
IT would be a brave gambler who wagered against Luis Suarez becoming the first Liverpool player to score 30 goals in a Premier League season when the leaders head to struggling Norwich City on Sunday.
The Uruguayan has played a major role in taking Liverpool – two points clear of Chelsea with four games left – to the brink of their first league title since 1990, with his 29 league goals one better than Robbie Fowler’s previous club best in the Premier League era.
He is also two goals shy of equalling the Premier League 38-game season record held by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Suarez has taken particular pleasure in tormenting Norwich, netting 11 times in four games including four goals in their last meeting, a 5-1 demolition at Anfield in December, and has scored hat-tricks in his past two trips to Carrow Road.
Former Liverpool striker Michael Owen said Suarez’s performances this season were on par with Arsenal great Thierry Henry.
“Suarez has been the best player in the Premier League this season,” Owen said.
“Yes, there are others who’ve done well – Yaya Toure, Steven Gerrard, Adam Lallana and Eden Hazard.
“But, when it comes to Suarez, I don’t think I have seen anything that good since probably Thierry Henry was playing in the Premier League. He has been absolutely outstanding.
“And it’s important to mention he has been absolutely exemplary this season. His discipline has been great.”
Sunday’s match comes at the end of an emotional seven days for the Merseyside club, with last Sunday’s 3-2 win over Manchester City putting them in the driving seat for the league crown, and Tuesday the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster which claimed the lives of 96 fans.
Liverpool will be heavy favourites against 17th-placed Norwich, who also have to play Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal as they bid to retain their top-flight status.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said they had to treat their lowly opposition like they did AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final.
“Every game is getting bigger because we are getting closer to the last game of the season,” he said.
“Man City was always going to be huge because they are in the race with us, but Norwich now become Man City. Norwich become Chelsea. Norwich become Manchester United. That’s how big it is.
“We have got to treat Norwich like we treated AC Milan in 2005. That’s just how football is. We can’t think about what colour shirts Norwich are wearing and the personnel in them. We have got to treat them like the best team in the world.”
David Moyes will return to Everton on Sunday for the first time since leaving to become Manchester United manager, hoping to build on consecutive league wins over Aston Villa and Newcastle.
United’s hopes of retaining their league title have long since gone and they are very unlikely to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
In seventh spot on 57 points, three behind Tottenham Hotspur with a game in hand, United are still in the running for the Europa League.
“There are still plenty of important games to play. We are Manchester United and it’s our duty to win every game we take part in,” Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea told the club website (www.manutd.com).
“That’s what we’ll try to do now because we want to finish as high as we can in the league, ensure we’re playing in a European competition next season, and show we are still around and that we will never give in.”
Everton, who suffered a shock 3-2 home defeat by Crystal Palace on Wednesday, are on 66 points, locked in a battle with Arsenal (67) for fourth spot and a place in next season’s Champions League.
The Gunners visit Hull City in Sunday’s other match, a dress rehearsal for next month’s FA Cup final.
Chelsea will seek to keep the pressure on Liverpool when they host Sunderland on Saturday, with the Black Cats’ hopes of an eighth season in the top-flight improved by a shock 2-2 draw at Manchester City on Wednesday
Third-placed City, six points behind Liverpool with one game in hand, host West Bromwich Albion on Monday.
Saturday’s other matches see 18th-placed Fulham travel to Spurs looking to continue their recent revival after two successive wins, and fellow relegation candidates Cardiff City host Stoke.
Aston Villa entertain Southampton, Newcastle play Swansea and Palace visit West Ham United.