LONDON — Liverpool’s Emre Can produced a goal of stunning brilliance to earn a crucial 1-0 victory at Watford on Monday that boosts the Reds’ push for a top-four finish in the Premier League.
A game that had been meandering along amid much mediocrity came to life on the stroke of halftime when Can’s extraordinary overhead scissors kick from Lucas’s chipped through ball rocketed into the top corner.
The strike, hailed by the club’s former defender Jamie Carragher as “one of the great Liverpool goals”, illuminated a dull first-half which had just been enlivened by substitute Adam Lallana’s dipping volley for the visitors that struck the bar.
An uninspired Watford side labored for an equalizer after the break but still came agonizingly close when Sebastian Prodl smashed a left-foot shot against the bar for the Hornets in the 94th minute.
The victory strengthened Liverpool’s hold on third place with 69 points, three points clear of fourth-placed Manchester City and four ahead of Manchester United, who are fifth.
The two Manchester sides, though, have a game in hand over their Merseyside rivals in the tense race for Champions league qualifying places. “I have never scored a goal like that — maybe when I was younger. That is the best goal I’ve ever scored,” the exultant Can told Sky Sports.
“I saw the space and I ran behind and my first thought was that I wanted to head it, then I didn’t think too much. Everything is now in our hands. If we win the (last) three games we are in the Champions League. We are confident. If we perform how we can perform then we can do it.”
The goal from the German international was unquestionably one of the best seen in the Premier League in 2016-17 but what felt most remarkable about it was that it materialized after such an undistinguished performance from Juergen Klopp’s team.
When Liverpool lost playmaker Philippe Coutinho to a leg injury suffered after a fourth minute challenge, there was little cohesion or punch in their approach.
Then, from seemingly nowhere, the Brazilian’s replacement Lallana uncorked a moment of inspiration five minutes before the break.
From goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes’ punched clearance, England international Lallana blasted his first-time 20-meter volley against the underside of the bar.
It was just the hors d’oeuvre, though. In stoppage time in the first half, Lucas, whose only contribution hitherto had been to get booked for a terrible dive, floated his through ball into the area where Can set himself for a moment of acrobatic wonder.
With no element of fluke, he twisted his body in mid-air to hook the ball flush on his right foot past a bewildered Gomes and sparked huge celebrations on the Liverpool bench. “This bicycle (kick) was pretty special, really wonderful,” Klopp said.
It looked like a settler for Liverpool, who have so often blown victory opportunities against the league’s lesser sides this season while excelling against their fellow top-six contenders.
Yet though Lallana came close to scoring on the break, and substitute Daniel Sturridge forced a wonderful late save from Gomes in the dying seconds, Liverpool’s failure to close out the game almost cost them.
In the last of four extra minutes, they failed to clear their lines and Prodl lashed his shot against the bar with Watford’s final attack.
Stumbling Sevilla upset by Malaga in Andalusian thriller
Malaga stunned Sevilla with two late strikes in a 4-2 win on Monday to leave Jorge Sampaoli’s side still at slight risk of slipping out of the top four in La Liga.
Despite two goals from Franco Vazquez, Sevilla’s defeat leaves them on 68 points, three behind third-placed Atletico Madrid, but now only five clear of fifth-placed Villarreal — and they still have to visit Real Madrid on May 14.
Vazquez opened the scoring at La Rosaleda in the 30th minute after breaking through from midfield, before playmaker Pablo Fornals equalised for the hosts eight minutes later with a rocket from outside the area.
Sandro Ramirez put Malaga ahead early in the second half but Vazquez levelled in the 57th minute of a fiercely contested clash after latching on to a loose ball in the box.
Malaga moved back ahead in the 77th when Diego Llorente planted a header into the top corner before substitute Juankar added the decisive fourth, snapping up the rebound after Sandro’s late penalty was saved.
Llorente, whose goal helped move Malaga up to 12th, said: “(The ball) just came to me and I took it well. It’s good to get a big win like this in front of our home fans.”
Sevilla midfielder Vazquez added: “We only have ourselves to blame. We made mistakes that you cannot make.”
Sampaoli’s side have slumped after being eliminated from the Champions League and if their bad form continues into their final three matches then Fran Escriba’s Villarreal could yet take advantage.
Villarreal, though, must face Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Saturday before their potentially winnable games against Deportivo La Coruna and Valencia. — Reuters