Liverpool have won three consecutive away games for only the second time since Jurgen Klopp took over at the end of 2015, with a magical goal from Emre Can the difference between the two sides down at Vicarage Road.
Prior to this weekend, the expectation was that Liverpool would have dropped to fifth position by the time they kicked off, but poor results for both Manchester clubs on Sunday meant this was a chance to extend their lead in third place, rather than having to play catch up. The pressure was still on, but perhaps not as much as it might have been.
Much of the first half passed by at a very slow pace. Liverpool won a free-kick early on that Philippe Coutinho swung in, but Can’s header had little on it and it failed to test Heurelho Gomes.
Seconds later, Coutinho tried to run in behind the Watford backline, and took a knock to his thigh. The Brazilian hobbled around for another seven or eight minutes, and was eventually replaced by Adam Lallana, only just returning from injury. He later posted on Instagram that his knock was ‘not too serious’.
Klopp had previously said there was no reason to panic, and you can see why.
Liverpool hold the advantage in the top-four race and will be looking to qualify for the Champions League. Will they achieve their aim? Compare free bets and make the most of the Premier League title run in.
It was far from the ideal start for the away team, but at least there was a stronger bench to turn to this week. Had Coutinho been injured last weekend, it would have been Ben Woodburn coming on in his place, not an England international. As it was, getting Lallana on the field was not a bad thing, just that it would have been hoped he could have been eased back in with half an hour to go rather than the majority of the match.
Miguel Britos also was injured within the first twenty minutes, with Christian Kabasele coming on in his place. The game was yet to properly get started.
Emre Can’s shot from distance forced a save from Gomes, whilst M’Baye Niang was causing problems at the other end, but neither side was holding any firm grip on possession.
On 44 minutes, Lucas – seemingly bored of the little action he was seeing in a defensive position – broke forward into the penalty area. He knocked the ball past Tom Cleverly and made the most of the minimal contact, comically flinging himself to the ground: he was correctly cautioned for the dive.
In the second of three added minutes at the end of the first half, Lucas made up for his stupid error of judgement, as he curled a delightful pass into the vicinity of Emre Can. The German’s stunning bicycle kick flew into the top corner from almost the edge of the penalty area. Gomes could only stand and watch.
Liverpool went into the break ahead courtesy of a goal of the highest quality, in complete contrast to the rest of the half. Chances are Can will never score a goal as good as that again.
Sebastian Prodl was booked almost immediately into the second half, as he tried to get in front of Roberto Firmino, but the resulting kick from James Milner – with Coutinho no longer on the field – went straight to Gomes for a comfortable save.
Early on, Liverpool were going for the second goal, and Watford were firmly under the cosh. Divock Origi curled a shot towards goal from distance and Lallana was busy drifting all over the pitch, causing all sorts of problems.
With twenty to go, Watford began to come out and attack, knowing they had nothing to lose at this stage.
Nordin Amrabat’s shot from the edge of the area was tipped over the top by Simon Mignolet, but referee Craig Pawson missed it. Etienne Capoue was subsequently booked for his complaints.
All the momentum had swung towards Watford by now, but Liverpool were still a threat on the counter attack. When Daryl Janmaat’s shot was charged down, Emre Can broke away and fed Adam Lallana, who had run about 70 yards to keep up, but Amrabat had come back to concede a corner with a last-ditch tackle.
The corner kick came to nothing, but it was a reminder to Watford that things were not going to go all their own way.
The final few minutes saw Jurgen Klopp and his backroom staff slow the game down, with Daniel Sturridge on for the largely ineffective Origi first, and then Ragnar Klavan coming on for Lallana a couple of minutes later.
Just before stoppage time, Joel Matip went rampaging forwards, eventually finding himself in a shooting position, and he forced a save. As good the passage of play was, it was a risk that was unnecessary at that stage in proceedings.
He was nearly made to pay when Stefano Okaka, who had come on for Nordin Amrabat, was incorrectly halted for offside, whilst Prodl also had time to hit the bar.
Liverpool, though, held on, and although it was not the most exciting game of football, it will be remembered for the special goal that was the difference in the end. If Liverpool are playing Champions League football next season, they might just look back and have Emre Can to thank.
Simon Mignolet, 8 – caught several crosses that came in, and actually made more saves than he was given credit for, with referee Pawson pointing for a goal-kick when he had made a good save, tipping the ball over the bar
Nathaniel Clyne, 8 – was able to get forward quite a lot and provided a few good balls; defended against the minimal threat of Daryl Janmaat very easily and seemed happier with Adam Lallana back in front of him
Joel Matip, 7 – did not have much to do, but perhaps was a little too confident when he strode forward from the back late on, ending the move through on goal, forcing a corner; did not need to take that risk but he got away with it in the end
Dejan Lovren, 7 – certainly an upgrade on his performance against Crystal Palace; did what he had to up against a difficult opponent in Troy Deeney
James Milner, 7 – another steady if unspectacular performance; what he lacks in creativity he makes up for in endeavour
Lucas, 7 – had little to do defensively, and so went forward at times; a mix of results, with the comical dive in the penalty area closely followed up with a sublime pass for the goal
Emre Can, 9 – scored the goal of his life and made significant contributions elsewhere too, with some vital tackles; made the most of his chance to play slightly further forward than usual but might be back as a number six if Coutinho is back for next week’s visit of Southampton
Gini Wijnaldum, 7 – recovered possession at important times and covered every blade of grass as always but was outshone by Emre Can; no disgrace when the German played as he did
Philippe Coutinho, n/a – early injury forced him off, but says it is ‘not too serious’
Divock Origi, 6 – really struggled to get into the game much; won a few things in the air, but has to do much more in future or risks being dropped to the bench
Roberto Firmino, 7 – was not in the game as much as he would have liked, but showed his usual quality on the ball when he had the chance
Adam Lallana (13th minute sub.), 8 – immediately injected much-needed quality when he came on earlier than anticipated for the injured Coutinho; put in a big shift having just come back from injury himself, and posed a threat to Watford’s defence time and time again
Daniel Sturridge (84th minute sub.), 6 – make a poor choice when he held onto the ball for too long, but then drew a foul to see out the final seconds; you still get the feeling he won’t be seen in red for too much longer
Ragnar Klavan (87th minute sub.), n/a – won a couple of balls in the air, but was mainly used to waste a bit of time near the end
Follow @MattAddison97 on Twitter for updates, photos and more news from VivaFootballCalcio’s Liverpool FC Correspondent.