Jürgen Klopp has warned his players not to assume Champions League football is theirs after Emre Can’s startling scissor kick beat Watford and ensured a top-four finish is within Liverpool’s reach with three games to play.
Can scored the “best goal” of his career in first-half stoppage time, connecting sweetly with Lucas Leiva’s diagonal pass, to move the visitors four points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United. Victories over Southampton, West Ham and Middlesbrough will ensure Klopp’s team return to Europe’s elite club competition but the German, while thrilled at his side’s response to their recent home defeat by Crystal Palace, remains cautious.
“We need to stay focused, to stay concentrated,” he said. “We have pressure until the end of the season but at least it’s a positive pressure. That is better. It means we are fighting for something.
“So we’ll do everything to get the points we need but it won’t be easy. If people think we already have the three points against Southampton, for example, then they’ve not watched them play this season. They’re another really strong side.
“But this was a big win and won by a great goal. Emre is a good player, a good player. He’d had a calf problem [earlier this season] but we simply couldn’t leave him out. We’d spoken a lot about this, as a group, and people were wondering what was wrong with him. But we needed him in those moments. Sometimes he wasn’t as good as he could have been, but now those problems are sorted, he’s physically strong again and we can see he can score goals like this...”
Can’s acrobatics ensured Liverpool coped with the loss of Philippe Coutinho to a dead leg, with Adam Lallana featuring for 74 minutes on his return from a thigh problem. The Liverpool manager did have to endure watching Sebastian Prodl batter a shot against the crossbar in the fifth minute of stoppage time as Watford threatened to draw level.
“I said to the players after the game, if they want to kill me, that’s a good way to try it,” added Klopp. “I thought I felt something in this area [his chest]. Five hundred million grey hairs ... We’d already defended this situation so often. They tried everything over 97 minutes but one mistake could have led to the goal. That’s how football at this level is. We didn’t play perfectly tonight but conceding in the last second would not have been deserved.”
Liverpool will resist selling Can this summer despite the player having failed to agree terms over a new deal as he enters the final 12 months of his contract.
“Everything is in our hands,” said the Germany international. “If we win the three last three games we are in the Champions League. We are confident we can achieve that. If we perform how we can perform, we can do it. But, having seen the results over the weekend [when both Manchester City and United dropped points], this was a big game for us. And that is the best goal I’ve ever scored.”