Paul Stafford rejoices as Emre Can’s superb acrobatic effort served as the difference between Watford and Liverpool at Vicarage Road and set the Reds well on their way to Champions League qualification.
With Arsenal and the Manchester clubs dropping points this weekend, Liverpool really needed to win to close in on a Champions League spot. Swansea City, Tottenham and Middlesbrough all helped the Reds in their quest for a top-four finish.
Manchester United had to resort to their dirty tricks again of diving for a penalty, but Swansea did all they could to help the Reds by drawing level.
Middlesbrough, in danger of being relegated, stepped it up with a 2-2 draw with Manchester City as Spurs outclassed a spineless Arsenal who also needed to get a result and are in danger of finishing outside the top four for the first time in 20 years.
Everything went Liverpool’s way this weekend and it was up to them to grind out a result in a tricky away tie. They have been stewing for eight days after losing at home to Crystal Palace and couldn’t wait to get going again.
Their fate was and is in their own hands.
This game was scripted and you just knew that Watford would be up for it, just to spoil Liverpool’s chances for Champions League qualification. Call it revenge, if you like, for the 6-1 drubbing Liverpool handed them at Anfield earlier in the season, but Watford, in no danger of relegation, and with relatively little else to play for but pride, stepped up a level just to ruin Liverpool’s chances.
Watford targeted Coutinho, Liverpool’s danger man, sandwiching him between two burly defenders in a bruising tackle, and he limped off in the early stages of the first half, being replaced by the returning Lallana.
Liverpool, in the early stages of the game, did not play with the intensity of a team looking to qualify for a Champions League berth. In fact, they looked rather timid as Watford dominated the scoring chances and threatened in the opening stages.
Liverpool fans everywhere were bracing themselves for another typical Reds performance when other results went their way, but everything changed in the 47th minute.
Emre Can scored a worldy! What a goal! It was made even more spectacular due to the fact that his back was to the goal and having a defender draped around him. There was a momentary silence as the stunned crowd didn’t believe what they had just seen.
Liverpool grew in confidence and began to take control of the game. The defence, rightly criticised for throwing away this type of match, finally held firm with relatively few chances going Watford’s way.
Lucas played in his preferred position of protecting the back four instead of being part of it and it paid off. With Lucas, Can and Wijnaldum all solid in their defensive duties, Matip and Milner were able to bomb forward in the second half.
Lucas took a dive to win a penalty and was ostracised heavily for it, but it seems okay for Marcus Rashford to do it and win a penalty for his team. But Manchester always gets the calls at Old Trafford as officials seem to be partial to their players surrounding and hounding them for decisions to go their way.
There were “nervy” moments towards the end of the game, especially when Mignolet tipped a shot over the bar that should have been a corner. And hearts stopped from Liverpool fans all over the world as Prodl hit the upright.
But they hung on to win it in the end with Can’s goal being decisive. They won ugly, but they did what they needed to do to get another crucial three points over the line, however, the sight of Coutinho limping off is a worrisome sight indeed. Let’s hope he’ll be back next Sunday to face Southampton.