April 28 (Reuters) - While Luis Suarez's 30 goals have provided much of the impetus behind Liverpool's remarkable rise to Premier League title contenders this season, captain Steven Gerrard has been the beating heart at the centre of the Merseyside revival.
Unfortunately for the 33-year-old midfielder, who has spent his entire professional career at the club, his slip in Sunday's 2-0 defeat by Chelsea may prove costly if Liverpool's 24-year wait for a title continues beyond the season.
Just before halftime at Anfield, Gerrard slipped while receiving a routine pass from Mamadou Sakho, allowing Chelsea striker Demba Ba to race in on goal to put the visitors one up.
Willian doubled the advantage late on as Liverpool failed to break down Chelsea's dogged defensive line, a defeat that ended their 11-match winning streak and took their Premier League title aspirations out of their hand.
Liverpool still lead with 80 points, but third-placed City sit three points behind with a match in hand and with a superior goal difference, meaning the 2011-12 champions can secure a second crown in three seasons if they win their last three matches.
Chelsea are second with 78 points.
Having won the Champions League, a UEFA Cup, two FA Cups and three League Cups, a league title is the one thing missing from Gerrard's list of club honours, and it would be a cruel twist if his error went some way to denying him what many would see as a fitting reward for a career of graft and loyalty.
Manager Brendan Rodgers refused to criticise his captain, saying his form was the reason they were fighting for the title.
"Steven is a boy who has picked up this club so many times," Rodgers told reporters.
"And it was just really unfortunate because he slipped at a crucial moment and it was right on half-time.
"He was doing everything he possibly could today and we hoped there would be one or two who would step up to the plate instead of him, but we couldn't quite do that today.
"There's certainly no blame because we are in the position we are in now because of him; he's been instrumental for us this season.
"It's just unfortunate that he's slipped over. It could have happened to anyone. This is a guy that is so strong mentally."
Liverpool have matches away to Crystal Palace and against Newcastle United at Anfield, and will hoping City, who beat Palace 2-0 on Sunday, will drop points to Everton, Aston Villa or West Ham.
Despite the denials of manager Jose Mourinho, Chelsea are also still in with a slim chance of winning, but Rodgers said it was important his side picked themselves up for their last two outings.
"If we can finish off the season and win these two games, we'll finish above them and maybe above Manchester City. But there's still a way to go," the Northern Irishman said.
"City will now feel they can go on and win their games. We'll just recover now; we'll focus on the next game, and continue with that positive mentality that we've had throughout the season - because that's the reason why we are where we are." (Reporting by Josh Reich; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)