| New Delhi
| May 2, 2017 3:50 am
Liverpool midfielder Emre Can celebrates his goal (Photo: AFP)
Emre Can’s masterful bicycle kick in first-half injury-time secured a priceless 1-0 win for Liverpool over Watford in their English Premier League tie on Monday night, strengthening their hold on the top four in the process.
With both Manchester Clubs, who are Liverpool’s closest competitors for the Champions League spots, drawing on Sunday, the Reds had a perfect opportunity to give themselves some breathing space but a trip to Vicarage Road was never going to be an easy game.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp sent out his best possible XI, in their standard 4-3-3 formation, with Divock Origi leading the line, flanked by Brazilians Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.
Walter Mazzarri’s men sat back and frustrated their visitors, comfortably keeping them at arm’s length for almost the entirety of the first-half only to let their concentration slip towards the very end.
Adam Lallana was desperately unlucky to hit the bar in the 41st minute, volleying the ball from outside the box after Heurelho Gomes had punched a corner clear but even the most ardent of Reds supporters could not have predicted the manner of the breakthrough.
Lucas Leiva saw Can making a run into the box and floated a long ball towards the German but instead of chesting the ball and laying it off for a teammate, the midfielder took flight and sent home an unstoppable bicycle volley to stun Watford.
With that vital opener in the bag seconds before half-time, a more assured Liverpool took the pitch in the second period but again, struggled to break down Watford’s well-organised defence.
While Watford began to grow a bit adventurous, desperate to find the equaliser there was always a chance that the Reds would hit them with speed on the counter and the away side nearly doubled their lead, when Can sent Lallana though, but the Englishman’s first-touch let him down in front of goal.
Daniel Sturridge came with five minutes remaining and very nearly sealed the deal for Klopp’s men, but Gomes was equal to his right-footed shot to keep the hosts in it.
Mazzari’s men went for broke in the dying stages and the tactic almost paid off, with defender Sebastian Prodl’s close-range volley cannoning off the post in the 94th minute to let the Reds off the hook.
With the result, Liverpool remain in third place, three points ahead of Manchester City and four ahead of Manchester United, both who have played a game less. They play Southampton at home on Sunday next and should they beat the Saints, a top four spot will be virtually guarantedd. The only low point for the visitors was Coutinho's early withdrawal from the game, but the club and the player have confirmed the calf injury isn't serious and the playmaker has a chance of making the Southampton game.
For Mazzarri’s men, however, there is cause for concern as they slip to 13th in the league table and while they do have a game in hand, face a fight if they are to finish in the top half.
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