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Liverpool edged one huge step closer to qualification for the Champions League proper next term with a hard-fought 1-0 away win at Watford.
Emre Can scored the solitary goal that separated the two sides – and I really cannot quite put the strike from the German into comprehensible words. In what was a first half deprived of any clear-cut opportunities (bar Lallana’s strike which looped onto the post), Can sent the whole football sphere into stunned silence when his acrobatic scissor-kick curled beyond the reach of Heurelho Gomes and into the left-hand corner.
It was an unbelievable individual goal – one that in fact proved to be the matchwinner in a nail-biting evening at Vicarage Road.
Watford did have their chances – Sebastien Prodl hit the crossbar in injury time, and Mignolet had to tip over an effort from Etienne Capoue too.
But Jurgen Klopp’s side held on for a vital win which moves them four points clear of 5th-placed Manchester United – as they duly capitalised on a wholly satisfying week of results from their perspective.
Who impressed in the win? Here are my candidates for Man Of The Match..
3: Joel Matip
Matip is easily Liverpool’s best CB at the moment, and he provided another typically reliable performance here when it mattered.
So much had been made pre-match about how he could be in for a tough night up against the direct threat of Troy Deeney and the pace of M’Baye Niang. But he coped seamlessly.
Although he did produce a commanding display defensively, he also offered a lot of penetration going forward too. With Philippe Coutinho coming off injured with a dead leg early on in the game, he was able to provide the creative passing from deep that had been absent from the Reds’ game.
He played a fantastic ball in for Origi in the second half, and made a terrific sortie from centre-back in the latter stages of the game – but was denied by Gomes. Overall, a very good performance from the Cameroonian.
2: Adam Lallana
Lallana was making his return to the side after obtaining an injury towards the end of March which ruled him out of Liverpool’s imperative four fixtures. He was named among the substitutes – I’m sure Jurgen Klopp was hoping to save him for the latter stages of the match, but he was called upon following Coutinho’s early injury. This meant that he was pushed slightly further forward in Klopp’s 4-3-3 system than preferred. Many people were worried it would hinder his performance, but he responded in terrific fashion.
If you were watching Lallana, you would barely be able to tell that he was making a return from injury. He looked sharp as ever; always playing a part in the Reds’ attacking forays. His ball retention was typically neat, and he could’ve marked his return with an excellently-taken goal.
A loose ball from a set-piece fell to the Englishman, and his first-time effort looped against the underside of the crossbar. It was incredibly unfortunate, and would’ve joined Emre Can’s goal as Goal Of The Season contenders.
Nevertheless, his work rate never fluctuated. With fifteen minutes to go, he had the chance to put the game beyond the hosts – but a poor first touch saw him shoot just wide of the mark.
Even though he couldn’t bag a goal on his eagerly-anticipated return, he impressed hugely on his return to injury. Added something different for Liverpool going forward.
1: Emre Can (Man Of The Match)
Is this even up for debate?
Cast your minds back to January – when Liverpool were in the midst of their slump which would cost their hopes of domestic and league success this season. Emre Can was cited as one of the perpetrators behind this awful run – and rightly so after some poor performances in the middle of the park. But, just like a true professional, he never looked back.
Ever since the talks linking him with a contract, he’s never let the stakes affect him. He has just carried on and rolled up his sleeves.
He was given the license to roam forward by Lucas Leiva in midfield – and put in another performance full of guile. The German executed arguably the Goal Of The Season with a curling scissor kick which gave Gomes not a prayer – and it proved to be the matchwinner.
Can also tested the Brazilian with a fizzing effort; overall, offered very good drive and end product going forward.
The Liverpool goalkeeper has been under the radar for most of his Liverpool career – but has begun to really respond to the critics with a string of excellent performances. Today was another great day for the Belgian.
Mignolet commanded his area well, looked happy from set pieces and also made several good saves from the likes of Etienne Capoue and Daryl Janmaat.
With performances like these week in week out, you really start to wonder how good he could be with a better CB and natural LB in front of him.
The win takes 3rd placed Liverpool 4 points clear of Man United 3 clear of 4th-placed Manchester City. It was always going to be a priority for them to capitalise on a favourable weekend of results which went their way – but a moment of individual brilliance invariably made the difference. However, the Reds also had to dig in for the win; showing mettle and fight in the process.
Having been criticised for not winning ‘ugly’ often enough, they have begun to do so. The likes of Burnley and West Brom have been on the end of what they will consider unfortunate defeats – but these kind of wins are the ones that champions thrive on. At the end of the day, the league table will only show points obtained, there are no performance points whatsoever. These kind of wins, for me, indicate progress.
Hopefully, Klopp & co can use this win and win those remaining 3 games in a similar fashion to seal a place in Europe’s elite. YNWA.