Can’s Acrobatics Edge Liverpool Closer to Champions League Football

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Liverpool edged closer to a crucial top four finish after a tight 1-0 against Watford at Vicarage Road. The Reds are now three points above Manchester City in fourth and more importantly four points ahead of Manchester United in fifth after both teams dropped points at the weekend. A game that lacked real quality throughout will be remembered for a moment of sheer brilliance from Emre Can. The German scored what has to be one of the goal of the season contenders after arriving late in the box, leaping into the air and scoring an overhead kick. The Liverpool defence coped well with the little threat the hosts posed all night and the Reds had the chances to kill the game off in the closing stages. But there handy work was almost undone in the final minute of added time when Sebastian Prodl rattled the bar from just eight yards out.

Klopp opted to name an unchanged line-up for the second game in a row despite many supporters hoping the boss would make changes to the side that lost at home to Crystal Palace last time out. Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge were welcomed returns to the match-day squad but both had to settle for a place on the bench. As a result, Liverpool lined up in the usual 4-3-3 that Klopp has favoured all season, with the front three of Coutinho, Firmino & Origi tasked with opening up the back five of Watford. Walter Mazzari made one change to his side that lost to Hull City last week with Mariappa coming in for Britos as the Hornets lined up in a 3-5-2 formation and looked to frustrate the Reds by sitting in a low block.

As Watford sat back and denied Liverpool any real space in dangerous areas early on, it became apparent that the Reds would need a moment of magic or a few quick incisive passing combinations in order to beak down an organised Watford defence.

Liverpool’s task got even harder when Coutinho limped off injured after suffering a knock to his right thigh, a major blow to a Reds’ side that is already without key players such as Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane. Klopp was forced to give Lallana a return to action much earlier than he would have wanted to as he came on to replace the injured Brazilian. Despite dominating the possession, Liverpool continued to look very one paced and lacked creativity in midfield, finding it difficult to create any real chances. The returning Lallana almost opened the scoring in spectacular fashion in the 41st minute as his left footed volley rattled the bar as Watford failed to properly clear a corner.

As a rather forgettable half drew to a close it was Emre Can who sparked the game into life. Lucas clipped the ball into the box from the right and as the German arrived into the box he leaped into the air and produced and unforgettable bicycle kick that nestled itself into the top corner. It’s hard to know what’s more surprising: Emre Can scoring an absolute worldie or Lucas claiming his third assist in five games. Not only was the goal a thing of beauty, the timing of it was crucial giving Liverpool a 1-0 lead going into half time.

The Reds started the second half brightly but couldn’t get that all important second goal. Divock Origi had the best of the chances as a fabulous 40 yard ball from Matip played him in on goal in the inside right channel only for his rather tame attempt to be saved by Gomez. As the game entered the last phase, Watford began to put the Liverpool defence under more pressure but the Reds’ defence dealt with the threat well with Matip and Lovren having good games. Both were commanding in the air, read the game well and used the ball effectively giving Deeney and Niang very little to feed off.

Joel Matip and Daniel Sturridge – who replaced Origi with just under ten minutes to go – almost sealed the win for the Reds but were both denied by Gomez in the Watford goal late on. Walter Mazzari threw on the two aerial threats of Isaac Success and Stefano Okaka as they went direct in the final stages in search of an equaliser. The Reds dealt well with the Watford attack until the final minute of added time when they failed to deal with a cross into the box from Tom Cleverley.

Cleverley’s cross came high into the box and Okaka’s flick fell to the feet of Sebastian Prodl who’s left footed shot canned off the bar from eight yards out with Mignolet well beaten. Just moments later the final whistle blew handing the Reds their third straight away win. Despite being far from their fluid best, Liverpool proved once again they could grind out a win when they desperately needed to. The much criticised defence dealt well with the very little threat the hosts posed and although the attack lacked creativity and pace throughout much of the game it was a moment of brilliance from Emre Can that handed the Reds a much needed win.

With just Southampton, West Ham and Middlesborough to play, Liverpool have given themselves a great chance of finishing in the all important Champions League spots, which will drastically improve the chances of landing their number one transfer targets for the summer. United could be seven points behind Liverpool when they take on Arsenal in the late kick off on Sunday. We’re getting closer but we’re not quite there yet.

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