Liverpool survive Newcastle scare to ensure title race gets the climax it deserves
The Premier League title race deserves to go the final kick of this relentless, spectacular confrontation between Liverpool and Manchester City. It will now do exactly that after Jurgen Klopp's side showed heart, nerve and resilience to prevail against Newcastle on a thunderous night on Tyneside.
With the margins in this titanic title battle so thin all season, this is the first round of matches where the destination of the Premier League trophy could have been decided. So, with the pressure at its most acute, the question of who would blink first loomed large over Jurgen Klopp's side at St James' Park.
As they were being held 2-2 by the Magpies with five minutes remaining, it looked like it might be Liverpool. That was until a flick of substitute Divock Origi's head gave them victory, put them back on top of the table and means the scenery shifts to Manchester City's meeting with Leicester at Etihad Stadium on Monday.
This was a night laced with danger for Liverpool as former manager Rafael Benitez lay in wait with a team that had secured Premier League safety and wanted to send 52,000 fans into the summer on a resounding high.
And it was all played out against the sub-plot and intrigue of Benitez's own situation at Newcastle, the "will he, won't he?" contract saga that has provided a persistent backdrop to their season.
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It lived up to all of that drama and more as Liverpool were made to battle deep into a topsy-turvy game before producing another one of those decisive late moments that have proved to be their calling card at this remarkable season's pinch points.
The statistic that underscores this mind-boggling season is that Liverpool have now accumulated 94 points to top the table with one game left, losing only once - to the team currently in second place - and yet may not win the title. This is the campaign that has stretched belief.
Klopp's team is a threat as long as any game is in progress. Liverpool have demonstrated that time and again, but they needed to excavate deep into their character to get through this one.
Liverpool's defence currently looks more vulnerable than at any time this season, but Klopp is willing to trade on the basis that no matter how many goals they concede, they still have the weapons to score one more.
It was one of those games here as Liverpool led twice, only to be clawed back before Origi - on after Mohamed Salah took a heavy blow to the head in an accidental collision with Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka and was carried off on a stretcher - settled matters.
Klopp's substitutions have played a key role in their success, with 12 Premier League goals coming from substitutes this season, more than any other team.
And Liverpool enjoyed a large slice of good fortune with the free-kick that led to the winner, as there appeared to be no contact between Fabinho and Matt Ritchie for the infringement that allowed Xherdan Shaqiri to launch the deadly delivery.
Champions are fashioned around quality and talent, but there must be other assets to complement them. This Liverpool side possess those in abundance.
It will be a crying shame for either Liverpool or Manchester City to miss out after such stellar seasons, but we will soon know the outcome.
And, in keeping with the drama, is there yet one more ironic twist to come? On Monday, Pep Guardiola's side meet a dangerous and in-form Leicester team led by Brendan Rodgers, who took Liverpool to the brink of their first title in 24 years in 2014 before Steven Gerrard's infamous slip against Chelsea and a calamitous concession of three late goals in a subsequent draw at Crystal Palace.
Could Rodgers be the man who now indirectly helps Liverpool towards claiming their first Premier League title?
Manchester City will be wary. Leicester have been re-invigorated under Rodgers, as they proved with their demolition of Arsenal. And, in Jamie Vardy they have an in-form striker with the pace and threat that has a nasty habit of troubling the best sides.
City's comfort - and they still must have raised an eyebrow in "can't they just go away?" exasperation when Origi struck so late - is that their fate is in their own hands.
They know that two wins - at home to Leicester and away to Brighton - will see them retain the Premier League. It is a simple, and yet complicated, equation.
City are on a run of 12 successive victories without any sign of blemish or weakness. Liverpool will also know their final game at Anfield against Wolves, who have been a real thorn in the sides of the top six this season, poses dangers of its own.
The Reds, however, have fulfilled their part of the bargain - as they have done all season.
The separation of these two superb teams will now come at the season's climax - as we should have suspected all along.