Can’s magic sees Reds scale yellow wall
Watford 0 Liverpool 1
Jurgen Klopp knows all about the Yellow Wall from his time at Borussia Dortmund but Watford laid down their own version of it last night and Liverpool needed something very special to break it down and bolster their hopes of finishing in the top four.
The vital victory was the result of a brilliant goal from Emre Can, who struck with an overhead kick that is a contender for goal of the season.
Elton John's Rocket Man was played at half-time only seconds after the extraordinary strike, and the song by Watford's honorary life president was appropriate. Can soared through the air.
The goal helped Liverpool to open up a four-point gap ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United as they capitalised on the failings of those around them when it was feared they were in danger of blowing it.
If Carlsberg - Liverpool's former sponsors -did football results then they could not have been much better for Klopp's side than what unfolded on Sunday when both Manchester clubs drew to teams threatened with relegation and Arsenal were beaten by Tottenham Hotspur.
Had those results been different, Liverpool could have started this encounter in fifth place, just three points ahead of Arsenal having played a game more. Instead they remained third and with their destiny in their hands.
"We have to fight for what we can fight for and that's a Champions League place," Klopp had said, mindful that this was exactly the kind of match which has tripped Liverpool up. The correspondent fixture last season, a 3-0 home win, is the German's biggest defeat during his time at Anfield.
Klopp wanted a reaction to the shattering home loss to Crystal Palace last time out. Watford wanted one to their defeat at Hull City a week ago. Watford's home form has been strong but that loss to 10 men hurt, with captain Troy Deeney apologising in his programme notes.
Adam Lallana was on the bench, returning from five weeks out through injury, but he was soon on after Adrian Mariappa caught Philippe Coutinho accidently on the thigh and left him with a dead leg.
The hiatus affected Liverpool's flow as did the fact that Watford strung five across the back and invited them on. There was another delay as Miguel Britos limped off for the home side to be replaced by Christian Kabasele.
Liverpool found it tough going. Watford, as Klopp had warned, are big and organised and constructed a formidable defensive line while attempting to spring on the counter. Finally a chance arrived with a square pass from Lallana to Can, who fired in a low shot from 25 yards that goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes pushed away.
With more at stake for Liverpool, they had to make the running and it appeared as if it would need something special to break the deadlock.
Lallana almost provided it: as Gomes punched away a corner, the England international met the ball superbly and struck a left-footed volley that dipped and crashed back against the underside of the crossbar.
If that was impressive then Lucas Leiva throwing himself to the ground as he brushed against Tom Cleverley in search of a penalty was not. Lucas was rightly booked for simulation.
Just as it appeared Liverpool would go in at half-time frustrated, they scored. And what a goal. It seemed little was expected when Lucas chipped the ball into the penalty area from the right but Can had space and adjusted to scissor-kick the ball brilliantly over his shoulder and high into the net. Safe to say that was unexpected.
It was the first goal Watford had conceded at home in five hours and 19 minutes and stunned everyone. It looked like a goal cut-and-pasted from a higher-quality match but it was so precious to Liverpool. And hopefully would lead to more ambition from Watford.
But it was Liverpool who threatened, with Gomes pushing away a shot from Divock Origi after the striker turned sharply from 25 yards. Origi was then given another sight of goal, stealing in ahead of Sebastian Prodl, but could not generate the power to beat Gomes.
Liverpool continued to dominate, seeking the goal which would surely confirm the victory. Where was Watford's ambition?
Finally, there showed something as the ball rebounded back to Etienne Capoue who struck a fierce, rising half-volley that Simon Mignolet smartly tipped over the bar. The goalkeeper was impressive again. Capoue was cautioned for protesting because no corner was given but the strike lifted the fans and their team.
They pushed on. Daryl Janmaat cut inside and Mignolet, expecting a cross, eventually managed to beat was a curling shot. Liverpool nerves were beginning to fray. Klopp responded to the aerial bombardment and brought on another centre-half, Ragnar Klavan.
Liverpool substitute Daniel Sturridge went close as Gomes parried his powerful low shot and the ball trickled past the post.
Prodl should have salvaged a point but volleyed against the bar from close range. What a moment. But then what a winning goal. (© Daily Telegraph, London)