By Steve Tongue
LONDON, April 27 (Reuters) - With a first title in 24 years close enough to touch Liverpool were undone by old nemesis Jose Mourinho whose Chelsea side inflicted a potentially mortal blow with a 2-0 win at Anfield on Sunday.
Chelsea's victory might have come too late for Mourinho's side to win the Premier League title, but it flung the door wide open for Manchester City who took full advantage with a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace.
At the bottom, Sunderland demolished Cardiff City 4-0 to leave the Welsh club propping up the table and lift themselves out of the bottom three at the expense of Norwich City.
In the latest twist of a fascinating Premier League season, under-strength Chelsea cut the gap at the top to two points with two games remaining, although City are only three points behind with a game in hand and healthier goal difference.
Should Liverpool and City both win their remaining games, City would almost certainly grab the title on goal difference just as they did two seasons ago, although if both drop points Chelsea could sneak through on the rails.
Victory on Sunday was Mourinho's seventh win in nine Premier League matches against Liverpool and completed the double over Brendan Rodgers's side this season - ending their 11-game winning streak that has propelled them towards the title.
Demba Ba, capitalising on a calamitous slip by captain Steven Gerrard, and Willian did the damage for a weakened Chelsea side but despite Mourinho's tactical triumph he immediately ruled his team out of contention for the title.
"We are Champions League for sure," Mourinho shrugged.
"We need one point to finish third....the champions, whether it is Liverpool or Man City we can say we won both matches against them. Forget the title, forget it."
City's supporters at Selhurst Park cheered news of Liverpool's defeat and had further cause for celebration as Yaya Toure, returning from injury, made the first goal for Edin Dzeko with a perfect cross.
Toure scored the second, his 19th in the league this season, before halftime after a fine run from the halfway line.
While City are now masters of their own destiny coach Manuel Pellegrini was refusing to get carried away.
"The only thing that is different is that we are not depending on other teams and what matters is only what we do between now and the end of the season," the cautious City coach told the club's website.
"I was obviously very happy with Chelsea's win, but this is far from the end of the title race because all three teams have very hard games still to play."
Chelsea have beaten both City and Liverpool home and away and despite missing five leading players through injury and suspension, Mourinho rested others ahead of Wednesday's Champions League semi-final, second leg against Atletico Madrid.
On paper it seemed the perfect scenario for Liverpool to knock Chelsea out of the title equation but with the league's leading scorer Luis Suarez failing to fire, they looked crestfallen as their winning run ended limply.
Rodgers, who once worked under Mourinho at Chelsea, accused his former club of playing defensively and having "two buses parked" in front of their goal.
But his side failed to make enough chances.
"Congratulations to Chelsea for getting the result but my team is a team that wants to be offensive, win games by playing good football, to be creative," Rodgers said.
"Chelsea played with a back six and just hit long balls up to Demba Ba. But the players gave everything."
Philippe Coutinho wasted an early opportunity and Mamadou Sakho also missed the target but Chelsea's reserve goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer did not have a shot to save for almost an hour.
Just before the interval Gerrard slipped after failing to control a routine square pass near the halfway line and Ba ran in to finish coolly.
Schwarzer, standing in for the injured Petr Cech, did well to keep out Joe Allen's volley and pushed over a Suarez shot.
The Uruguayan striker was generally well controlled by a solid Chelsea defence and although the London side were pushed back for much of the second half, they still counter-attacked dangerously.
Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet saved low down from Andre Schuerrle on one such break and in stoppage time Fernando Torres, once a Liverpool hero, set up Willian to tap in.
While Chelsea's fans celebrated they will rue a shock home defeat by Sunderland in their previous match, the first time Mourinho had lost in 78 league games at Stamford Bridge.
Had they won that match they would now have been top of the table and would have the title in their own hands.
Chelsea's remaining fixtures are against two relegation candidates, Norwich at home and Cardiff away.
Liverpool play away to Crystal Palace and finish at home to Newcastle, hoping that City will drop points in what has been a topsy-turvy Premier League season either away to Everton or at home to struggling Aston Villa and West Ham.
Connor Wickham scored twice for Sunderland who have now taken seven points from their last three games to move out of the drop zone on goal difference. They also have a game in hand of their survival rivals.
Arsenal host Newcastle on Monday looking to consolidate their hold on fourth place.
(Writing by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)