Jürgen Klopp knows all about the Yellow Wall from his time at Borussia Dortmund but this was a different kind of challenge set by Watford’s blanket five-man defence and Liverpool needed something special, something very, very special, to maintain their hopes of finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League.
That something special was a goal of the season contender from Emre Can who ran into the penalty area, on the brink of half-time, adjusted his 6ft 1in frame, heaving his body up high into the air to meet Lucas Leiva’s chipped pass and execute a superb overhead kick that crashed past the startled goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes and high into the net.
Can’s reaction, the fans reaction, his team-mates and opponents reaction said it all. It was jaw-dropping. Emre certainly can. “Pretty nice,” grinned Klopp in gloriously deliberate understatement.
Can was the ‘Rocket Man’, in fact, with reference to Sir Elton John – Watford’s honorary life-president – and the song was coincidentally (or maybe generously and deliberately?) played at half-time only seconds after the extraordinary strike.
Can’s goal will go right up there with strikes by Andy Carroll, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud this season and maybe because of its importance – and how out of kilter it was with the rest of this attritional game – it deserves to top the lot. It was, he later said, the best he had ever scored.
Except Can was not the first player that Klopp ran to hug at the final whistle. Instead that was Sebastian Prodl with the Watford defender having almost snatched a draw in the 94thminute as Liverpool failed to clear a cross and it bounced to him, knee-high, at the far post only for the 29-year-old to hammer his shot against the cross-bar.
“I said to the players after the game, if they want to kill me, that’s a good way to try it,” Klopp later said. “I thought I felt something in this area [touching 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.”
A draw then and Liverpool would have been sent hurtling back to earth. Instead they opened up a four-point gap ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United and capitalised on the failings of those around them when it was feared they were in danger of blowing it. Now, with three games to go, it is back in their hands.
There were concerns, though. Not least with some of their defending and with Philippe Coutinho having to be substituted early on with a dead leg – “Hopefully not too serious, but really painful,” Klopp said - and then his replacement Adam Lallana back after five weeks out through injury also substituted. That appeared more to do with fatigue and Klopp’s need to shore up his back-line ahead of Watford’s aerial bombardment as he brought on another defender, Ragnar Klavan.
If Carlsberg – Liverpool’s former sponsors – did football results then they could not have promised much better for Klopp’s side than what had unfolded on Sunday with both Manchester clubs drawing to teams threatened with relegation and Arsenal beaten by Tottenham Hotspur. Liverpool could have started this encounter in fifth place – and just three points ahead of Arsenal having played a game more – instead of still being in third.
But Liverpool needed to take advantage. It meant this was always going to be a fretful match, especially after the home loss to Crystal Palace, which had tightened things up at the top. “We have pressure until the end of the season but that’s a positive pressure,” Klopp added. “It means we are fighting for something.”
No one could doubt Liverpool’s fight but Watford are obdurate at home. Can’s goal was the first they had conceded in five hours and 19 minutes although they do surrender creativity for organisation under their manager Walter Mazzarri whose future will be reviewed at the end of the season despite steering them to 40 points.
Chances – incidents – were at a premium before Gomes punched a clearance out to Lallana who, 25 yards from goal, managed to volley left-footed and looping back over the goalkeeper with the ball cannoning back off the underside of the bar. The other moment in a tough first-half, before the goal, was Lucas being rightly cautioned as he sought a penalty and dived when close to Tom Cleverley. It kind of negated another Klopp comment that other teams (ie. the Manchester clubs) had benefitted from “penalties not penalties” on Sunday.
Liverpool continued to make the running with Divock Origi forcing two sharp saves from Gomes and knew that they needed that second goal to kill off Watford who had to eventually summon a response and did so when Etienne Capoue struck a rising shot that was tipped over by the impressive Simon Mignolet.
No corner was given, Capoue was booked for his protests, but it served to stir Watford with Mazzarri later complaining that Troy Deeney and substitute Stefano Okako were wrongly pulled up for offside when in promising shooting positions while Mignolet saved well from Daryl Janmaat.
It seemed another substitute, Daniel Sturridge, would settle nerves but his low shot was blocked by Gomes with the ball trickling just past the post before Watford launched one last assault – and Prodl could not finish it.
"Their wonder goal means nothing is going on our side because first real chance they had - and it wasn't really a chance - they took it,” Mazzarri said. That was true. It was not really a chance. But it was some goal. A goal worthy of winning any game, a “goal of “champions”, Mazzarri added or, Liverpool hope, of helping gain entry into the Champions League.
"We started really well but then we had to change, not ideal to have to bring Adam on after four weeks out.
"Really special goal, really wonderful. I want to say that it was expected! But from Emre. We needed a little bit of luck.
We had to work and Watford do not make it easy for anyone to win here. They have improved a lot in the last few months. It was difficult to defend, Deeney and Success, these boys you have to be careful."
Watford 0 Liverpool 1
Report to follow.
Watford hit the bar!
Ball slung into the Red area, Liverpool cannot do the simple thing and hoof it all the way to Bushey. Instead, it's bobbling around... it drops for Man Bun Sebastian Prodl. He smashes a volley and it hits the crossbar! Oh Liverpool. Hearts in mouths there. That's the last action and Liverpool have clung on for the point.
Time on ball (at full time)
Average touch positions (full time)
There are four minutes to be added. As they tick down Watford have a chance to stick it in the mixer. The reliable Milner clears.... but not fully out of the woods just yet.
Sturridge with a super run, and he has a fine shot at the end of it. It comes through a FOREST of legs, or rather a small spinney, but anyway, and Heurelho Gomes can only have seen it very late. Excellent reactions as he sticks out an arm.
Wijnaldum neat little pass into the area, Matip with a shot, and Liverpool get a nice bonus corner. I'm not entirely certain why Matip is getting onto cute little passes in the penalty area but what do I know?
Klopp will not have wanted Lallana to have this much action, perhaps, and he is coming off. Klavan on.
Oh look! It's Daniel Sturridge, released for a brief gallop. Divock Origi withdrawn. Watford have a change of their own. Stefano Okaka is on for Nordin Amrabat.
Janmaat! He sees an opening, he lets fly with a pretty decent curling shot and SiMi has to get down sharpish to stop.
Good break from Success. HELLO SUCCESS! And he has won a corner. Mignolet calms a few Liverpool nerves with a really commanding catch.
I could see Liverpool getting sucker punched here. They've never looked convincing.
What should I do instead of watching terrible game of football Watford v Liverpool?— Nick Miller (@NickMiller79) May 1, 2017
(Keep in mind that I am at Watford v Liverpool)
Lallana with a fine chance to wrap things up. Liverpool break straight from the corner, Can I think it is down the right. Lovely ball right into the path of Adam L but he dogs his first touch and shins it.
Time on ball (60 - 75 min)
Watford and fans looking to turn it up for the last 15 or so. Here's a long throw. Liverpool have to head behind.
Capoue's done for the day, here is Issac Success. Hello Success.
Watford seem to have found some sense of urgency and have tried some long bombs into the Liverpool area. Dealt with okay so far.
Ball into the Liverpool area and there's that weakness again - Lovren heads it out but cannot really clear it properly. It gives Etienne Capoue a chance for a shot, he strikes it crisply and it looks that Mignolet has got a fingertip on it. Ref gives a goalkick, Capoue gives the ref a volley of abuse, ref gives Capoue a yellow card. Well done to all concerned.
Game played out in near silence as Janmaat goes past Clyne and crosses. Easily for Miggers.
That goal again
Anybody seen Watford? Liverpool have kept them quiet to the point of cruelty. Rare quarter-opportunity for the hosts as the ball is played into the isolated Deeney but there's nobody near him, other than Redmen.
Cartesian dualism?" asks Andrew Holgate. "I'm in two minds whether Pulis could pull that off."
Time on ball (45 - 60 min)
Rapier move from Liverpool, a great ball forward, Origi onto it. Decent hit. Saved by that man Gomes again.
Busiest Watford man this half, indeed the only one who has done ANYTHING, is the keeper Gomes. He deals with a shot from Origi and then has to look lively as Origi heads.
Doucoure has accidentally hit Can in the puss with his arm.
Milner's freekick is straight at Gomez, who makes a drama out of a not crisis by flapping it away.
Silly foul from Sebastian Prodl on Firmino, on the edge of the area. Booked.
Whether it was for the man-bun or the foul I cannot say. Either would be justified.
I was going to type "can Watford get back in this?" but in truth neither side has been either in it or out of it. It was an absolute blank of a first half, save for Lallana hitting the bar with a peach, and Can then scoring with a peach melba.
No time sadly
to give that the time it deserves, because the second half is upon us. Bantam Lyons, Peter Crouch, and Shane O'Leary, God bless you all.
Meanwhile, let us return to the match.
A sensational email at ht
From Shane O'Leary, who writes:
Pleased to see that your reportage has mentioned Peter Crouch because my (working, ha!) evening includes the great man as well, oh yes.
I'm supposed to be reviewing the latest from the French pop combo called Bantam Lyons and they have released something called "I Want To Be Peter Crouch". Really, doesn't everyone?
And look! Emre CanCan has scored while I'm typing, hooray!
Half time: Watford 0 Liverpool 1
No further action of note and everyone can go into half time still savouring that magnificent piece of athleticism by Emre Can.
Wild celebrations over by the LFC dugout
Glorious. Absolutely honking half of football, and then one of the most exciting, acrobatic, joyous goals you will ever see. Football eh?
Time on ball (first half)
Average touch positions (half time)
GOAL EMRE CAN! AND WHAT A GOAL!
The ball was chipped in from Lucas and Emre Can has produced an absolute screamer. Leaping overhead volley.
And now there IS a booking for diving. Lucas the guilty party. He knocks it past the defender, Tom Cleverley, and goes down cheaply, a shameless attempt to cheat. Booked.
Lallana with a glorious piece of tech. Corner for the Reds, headed out by Sebastian Prodl. It comes to Lallana on the edge of the box. Wonderful skill, he watches it right onto his laces for a truly lovely volley. It's hit the bar! Keeper was nowhere near. Oh so unlucky for the Englishman on his return to action. Would have been a GOTS contender. Origi tried to follow it in but was denied.
Emre Can trying to barrel and bustle his way through the Watford penalty area, legs and tackles all over the place. He wants a pen, ref not sharing the view.
Watford fans, by the way, want him booked for diving.
The shot count is similar
Watford have attempted three shots so far, compared to two for Liverpool.
Liverpool concede, and then successfully defend, a corner. Imagine! Foot race between Deeney and Lovren, the former is down in the latter's area, but the referee's not moved.
Anyway, Watford v Liddypool. This is mince. The players have all clearly been watching Bond films on the sofa all afternoon, or whatever it is that people do on bank holidays.
"Cartesian dualism and sticking it in the mixer"
"The self and the Crouch"
"Karl Marx and controlling the means of long throw production."
Time on ball (15 - 30 min)
Tony Pulis is speaking at the Oxford Union.
It's hotting up! Starting to look like the crowds they get at Huddersfield these days... pic.twitter.com/YajY5VSk8R— Jon Mackenzie (@Jon_Mackenzie) May 1, 2017
I think I'd want full trigger warning before that tbqhwy
Coming up to 30 minutes
This is #notaclassic so far.
Effort from GW, blocked by Amrabat.
It's a quiet period in a quiet game.
Can! Nice strike. Gratefully grasped by Mignolet.
Well worked move down the right.
Liverpool hit back
Liverpool register their first shot, in response to two so far from Watford.
War of attrition here! Miguel Britos now has to go off hurt. Christian Kabasele comes on.
No relation, sadly
Decent spell for Liverpool, without actually creating anything. But then a swift, dangerous break from Watford. Ball played into Cleverley, knock down, crisp strike from Troy D but easy for the keeper.
Milner making a decent forage forward, tries to pick out Wijnaldum. he cannot quite get there.
Time on ball (0 - 15 min)
Coutinho looks to have lost his battle to run off that injury. Is Lallana fit enough? We are about to find out.
He's a real live wire is the lad Niang. Spins away from Matip, is brought down. Freekick wasted.
Milner has also had a knock after a hard tackle. Ref really, er, letting the game flow. Klopp losing patience.
M'Baye Niang has the game's first shot, a wildly optimistic effort from near the touchline that's meat and drink for the Liverpool keeper.
Coutinho has been off and on. Trying to run it off. But he is hopping and hobbling.
Coutinho did not enjoy that one bit.
Now Adrian Mariappa has gone in on Coutinho with his foot up. Sore one. Again, coulda been a booking.
Origi tries to take the ball with his back to goal and is dumped on his kesyter by Sebastian Prodl. That could have been a booking, I'd say. Wasn't. Liverpool have a handy freekick, and Can has broken away from his man, but the ball is just a foot too high for him to get any control on his header across goal.
Early warning shot against the Liverpool bows as Niang spins away from a challenge but cannot get the ball. That pace will worry the Liverpool backline.
Watford kick off, and immediately the ball sails out for a throw in. Ave a bang on that.
Watford in yellow, Liverpool in red. Glory be. Watford, by the way, are not mathematically safe.
Ave a bang on that
Just a few minutes until kick off
Feels like a huge opportunity for Liverpool. As for Watford, a win would put them NINTH. Not too shabby.
Excellent from Sky
Who are pointing out that Liverpool have let in the third most goals in the PL from set pieces. Jamie Carragher says that Liverpool don't struggle too much with the first ball, but with the second.
Pards: "You have a set play coach, you have an analyst." He explains that when preparing Palace to face Liverpool they worked on making sure they got to the second ball - ie by bungled clearances, knock downs. And lo and behold, Palace scored just such a goal.
"Lallana has had four weeks out and just a couple of sessions of training," he says, explaining that he was not really tempted to start the player. "But he is back and looks sharp.
"This is a strong opponent. I am not interested in whether we are favourite or not. They have a very experienced goalkeeper, they have good centre halves, they have a talented young winger with a finish. Deeney is very strong. But that is the Premier League! It's not easy."
Truly, these are the good times for the people of the N1 corridor. Local boy Anthony Joshua did the business on Saturday, can their team batter another heavyweight tonight? I wonder if Troy Deeney will be inspired by the triumph of his friend Anthony.
There seems to be a vogue for these at the moment, I like 'em.
Der Klopper has told Mourinho to stop whining
about the fixture congestion/workload. Here's Chris Bascombe...
Jürgen Klopp has dismissed Jose Mourinho’s claims Liverpool have an unfair advantage in the race for Champions League places.
Mourinho has complained about Manchester United’s fixture schedule and injury luck as they seek the victory over Swansea this weekend that would take them above Liverpool.
While Klopp accepts United’s difficulties, he suggested there was little sympathy for his own club when they faced the same demands a year ago.
He also thinks United’s squad is such they are equipped to deal with so many games.
“It’s not unfair. It is the situation. Nobody asked us last year how we felt about it,” said Klopp.
“I can imagine what he means but they have played a similar season to what we had last year, although unfortunately we were not in a position to play for Champions League.
“Obviously they also have a different squad, a wider squad, and with all of their injury problems they had so far they are still able to put out teams and you think Mkhitaryan isn’t playing? Rooney isn’t playing? And him, and him? It is different, but of course it is hard. They have seven or eight games left – five in the Premier League, a semi-final and maybe a final – and yes that is hard, absolutely, but we had a similar situation last season.”
has no doubt stood in that exact pose in nitespots from Mitcham to Marbella, murmuring out the side of his mouth "oi oi lads!"
inexperienced hornet in the house
Adrian Mariappa makes just his third PL start of the season.
Interesting angle from Watford
Tactics and such
Watford playing a 3-5-2. Perfect formation to suss out our flaws. We only attack the wings with one player. Match us in CM. 3 def vs Origi— liverpoolstuff (@liverpooIstuff) May 1, 2017
We go to Watford and play Southampton before United and Arsenal face each other next Sunday. This is the opening, Reds. Got to capitalise.— Ryan (@ryan3levis) April 30, 2017
Kenny on the train
King Kenny with us on the train to Watford! pic.twitter.com/8F6zwW4Zse— Oliver Bond (@Oliver__Bond) May 1, 2017
wait, this one is much better. That legendary cheerful disposition in full effect here.
Teams in text
for those of us who can still get and transmit information without need for a little smiley face / video / picture etc.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner, Lucas, Can, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Firmino, Origi. Subs: Karius, Moreno, Grujic, Sturridge, Alexander- Arnold, Klavan, Lallana.
Big game for Liverpool. It has been a good weekend so far for Klopp and co.
Evening! Happy Monday
Tyers here. Let's round off the Bank Holiday with, hopefully, a cracker of a football match. Here come the teams...
What is it?
When is it?
Monday May 1 - ie tonight.
What time is kick-off?
It's an 8pm BST start at Vicarage Road.
What TV channel is it on?
As with most Monday night football, this one is on Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 1 HD and Sky Sports Ultra HD.
What is the team news?
Watford defender Craig Cathcart is a doubt for Monday night's visit of Liverpool because of a knee problem.
Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami, who has just returned to the squad after a spell out with a hamstring injury, will also be monitored.
Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Roberto Pereyra (knee) and forward Mauro Zarate (anterior cruciate ligament) all remain sidelined.
Provisional Squad: Gomes, Britos, Janmaat, Prodl, Holebas, Amrabat, Cleverley, Capoue, Niang, Doucoure, Deeney, Pantilimon, Okaka, Zuniga, Success, Mariappa, Behrami, Kabasele, Cathcart.
Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana has a chance of being fit for Monday's trip to Watford after returning to first-team training for the first time since his groin injury a month ago.
Striker Daniel Sturridge is also involved with the first team again after missing Sunday's defeat to Crystal Palace with a sore hip.
Captain Jordan Henderson (foot) is still not fit to return while Sadio Mane, Ragnar Klavan and Danny Ings (all knee) are long-term absentees.
Provisional squad: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner, Can, Lallana, Wijnaldum, Firmino, Origi, Coutinho, Karius, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Moreno, Lucas, Grujic, Woodburn, Sturridge, Brewster.
What are they saying?
"They (Liverpool) be very angry, because they lost at home (to Crystal Palace)," the Italian said in a press conference as reported by the Hertfordshire Mercury.
"(But) I hope my players are more angry than them, because we lost our last game and (also) conceded six against Liverpool (at Anfield) earlier this year."
"We are not here just to play the games and to be in the middle of nowhere because of the quality of the team and a top manager, who won almost everything with Dortmund," he told liverpoolfc.com.
"When Jurgen came in, he changed me a lot. Not just me, he changed a lot of players with the mentality, working hard on the pitch, on the training ground and he is still fresh here because it's only a year and half, but everyone has seen the big difference.
"With his ideas and plans, and also with the club, it can be a positive thing in the end.
"Next season, we will again try to reach as many points as possible, but firstly to finish this season well and qualify for the Champions League."
What are the odds?
- Watford - 11/2
- Liverpool - 3/5
- Draw - 7/2
What's our prediction?
Jason Burt: Watford are on the beach. They are safe from relegation and the future of their manager is in doubt while Liverpool need to win this one to hold off the growing threat of Manchester United in trying to squeeze them out of the top four. Injuries have hit Liverpool hard but anything short of a win is not going to be good enough and that desire should see them through. Although Watford will be dangerous at set-pieces.