Watford 0-1 Liverpool
Anything Roo can do, Can can do better…
There are many who would suggest that Wayne Rooney’s overhead strike against Manchester City in 2011 is the best goal of the Premier League era. I know these things are terribly subjective, and my view is tainted by an irrational loathing of Manchester United players (ex-Evertonian United players at that), but, to my mind, Emre Can’s match winner last night against Watford surpassed Rooney’s excellent finish. And then some.
But, by God, this disjointed, turgid encounter did not deserve a goal of such heart-stopping quality. From the start, it was clear that this was to be one of those matches where Jürgen Klopp’s men were to be taunted by the opposition: Come and break us down if you think you’re good enough. On many occasions this term, this has manifestly proved impossible for Liverpool, as the supine performances against Burnley, Bournemouth, Hull City and, most recently, Crystal Palace prove.
Watford were defensive and brutal, snapping into challenges with the gusto of a man with tapeworm at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Coutinho was not the first to feel the full force of Watford’s – legal – aggression, but his coming together with Adrian Mariappa saw him limp off to be replaced by the barely match-fit Adam Lallana.
Liverpool fans must have feared the worst. With Coutinho absent, the one magician capable of picking the most sophisticated of locks was gone. How were Liverpool going to cash-in on the generous gift vouchers proffered them by Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal?
Adam Lallana almost broke the deadlock with a sumptuous left-footed volley following a poor Heurelho Gomes punch from a corner. His shot cracked against the crossbar and fell the wrong side of the goal line for Liverpool to take the lead. Had it gone in, it might have been a contender for Goal of the Season. Well, for about five minutes…
From the sublime to the utterly ridiculous, Lucas tried the cheat’s way, flinging himself to the ground having felt the hot breath of a Watford defender somewhere in his immediate vicinity. Given the theatrics of the weekend, Craig Pawson was hardly going to fall for this, and the Brazilian was deservedly yellow carded.
The first half seemed destined for deadlock – a score line that would have pleased Watford manager Walter Mazzarri, but frustrated Jürgen Klopp. Three minutes of stoppage time were signalled. Fans disappeared for their half-time brews. Scribes began sharpening their pens.
And then it happened…
There are moments in life when sport transcends tribal loyalties, and becomes pure; when gifted human beings do things that us lesser mortals can only dream about; when nothing else matters except the beauty of the moment, the shock of the unexpected. These moments are few and far between and, when they arrive, spectators are momentarily silent, robed in disbelief, before guttural, incoherent noises pour forth, the magic and the wonder of the seemingly impossible having been made real. Watford fan Anthony Joshua’s brutal 11th round uppercut on Saturday evening was an example of that. So was Emre Can’s winner.
A description of the mechanics will not do it justice. However, this, essentially, is what happened: Lucas Leiva floated a cross towards the Watford area and, although it cleared the centre backs, the ball looked like it was falling into no-mans-land. However, like Mr Benn’s shopkeeper, as if by magic, Emre Can appeared, darting into the space, contorting his body in such a way that, as he bicycled in mid-air, his right foot connected perfectly with the ball, which flew past a helpless Gomes.
In truth, what happened defies rational explanation. Like Joshua, Can floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. Newton’s laws of physics were ripped up, and Vicarage Road became an enchanted Hogwarts.
It was as balletic as it was unexpected. Can is a scorer of occasional goals, sometimes satisfyingly long-range. But this? This was a different level. For a moment he was not a footballer: he was an acrobat; he was a dancer. He became a member of Diversity, from a seemingly standing start, flinging his body into mid-air where it became suspended, and then he swivelled and the stars aligned. Forget it. I can’t describe it. Just watch it. (Below)
The second half was meagre pickings by comparison. Watford retreated, but still looked dangerous on their occasional forays forward. Lallana grew in stature, before being replaced by the prodigal Sturridge. Can lumbered about and was a mere human again.
And yet, Liverpool being Liverpool, they almost contrived to blow it, yet again. Mignolet and the defence had looked composed most of the evening when, in the dying seconds of the contest, a loose ball dropped invitingly at the feet of Watford’s Sebastian Prödl, just metres from the Liverpool goal. He hit his shot well, perhaps too well, and the thud of the ball as it thundered against the crossbar must have sickened Watford’s fabulously noisy fans to the core.
The final whistle brought audible sighs of relief from the Liverpool faithful. In the course of a turbulent season, Liverpool have done their best to absent themselves from the top four on many occasions. This round of results puts them in control of their own destiny. And they can thank Emre Can for that.
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