A spectacular goal you have to see
So, Monday’s match between Watford and Liverpool might have seemed a barely-consequential chapter in the Tolstoy-dense narrative that has been the 16/17 Premier League story. Liverpool’s unsurprising win inched them closer to becoming Champions League placeholders, and Watford’s unsurprising loss cemented them as Just Good Enough in a league where Spurs are currently generating the most genuine excitement. And yet, those who tuned in saw, deep into first-half stoppage time, an extraordinary goal of the year candidate, made more extraordinary with “Emre Can” and “bicycle kick” finding their way into the same sentence.
With the match nearing halftime and the score at 0–0 (naturally), Lucas lofted a pass into the half-circle atop the 18-yard box, spotting Can as the furthest-forward of a cluster of Liverpool players hovering around Watford’s parked bus. With two defenders nearby, and with Roberto Firmino ready to make a run in from behind, the safe play would have been for Can to trap the pass, look for Firmino to break, and pass the ball into him to set up for an end-of-half attempt. But Can, defying expectation as well as gravity, went airborne.
It was the ultimate something-out-of-nothing goal. Keeper Heurelho Gomes started toward the volley, realized he wasn’t going to get there, and resigned himself to witnessing greatness. Can reacted with the surprise and delight you might expect, and manager Jurgen Klopp reacted with the characteristic joy and man-hugging you’d definitely expect. Watford fans, meanwhile, were caught in post-goal shock, with mouths hilariously agape (pictured above).
Pundits declared it the goal of the year in the moment and in their post-match wrap-ups. My Liverpool-loving friend Carlo sent me a characteristically sardonic text: “Assist by Lucas. He has as many as Pogba now.”
It was just the eighth goal of Can’s Liverpool career, five of which have come this season.
And, of course, not much else of consequence happened the rest of the match. A couple of near-goals, a questionable goal-kick call that went Liverpool’s way on an audacious Watford attempt, and by the end, the Reds did just enough to keep a steady-if-not-spectacular campaign on a track to third or fourth place. Plus, of course, one highlight-reel moment that no one will ever be able to take away from Emre Can.